Just six months after becoming the first state to reject a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, Minnesota is poised to become the twelfth state to legalize it.
A jubilant crowd of supporters erupted into applause as the Minnesota State Senate passed legislation Monday extending marriage rights to same-sex couples. The bill passed the Senate by a 37-30 vote; all but two Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party senators supported the measure, while all Republicans but one opposed it.
The Senate vote came on the heels of last Thursday’s 75-59 vote in the state’s House of Representatives. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will sign the bill into law on Tuesday in a ceremony on the steps of the state capitol; marriage equality will officially become law on August 1.
The bill’s chief sponsor, State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, spoke movingly during floor debate about his husband, who he married in California in 2008, and said the measure would not change marriage, but expand it.
“We were lucky to be able marry during the narrow window in 2008 when all marriages were legal in California,” Dibble said, reading from a letter to colleagues that he wrote in February. “Our family, who had always been loving and supportive, understood us and had a connection to our relationship in a way that just didn’t exist previously. Marriage is simply meaningful in ways that nothing else is.”
Dibble also praised generations of Minnesota activists for same-sex marriage, including the late State Senate President Allan Spear, DFL-Minn., one of the first openly gay legislators in the country, and Richard Baker and Gerald Nelson, who unsuccessfully sued in 1971 for the right to marry.
Senate Republicans tried repeatedly to amend the bill, which would have forced the bill back to the House for further action. The effort included an unsuccessful attempt to allow businesses to discriminate against same-sex married couples. Still, even as the bill’s opponents railed against the legislation, they had to concede that the tide of progress was working against them.
“Some have said, ‘But don’t you want to be on the right side of history?’ The truth is I’m more concerned about being on the right side of eternity,” said State Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville.
In an odd way, Hall and other opponents of marriage equality were responsible for today’s historic vote. In 2011, the then-Republican-controlled legislature voted to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot banning same-sex marriage. The move backfired spectacularly; in November of 2012, voters in Minnesota rejected the amendment and swept the GOP out of control in both the House and Senate.
The coalition that successfully beat back the amendment turned its energy to fighting to eliminate the state’s ban on same-sex marriage altogether, pushing their allies in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party to bring the issue to a vote. In February, marriage equality was endorsed by DFL Gov. Dayton; State House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis; and State Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.
On Monday, Minnesotans United, the organization that successfully fought to stop discrimination from advancing, and then successfully fought to roll it back, was celebrating.
“Nearly two years ago to the day, the Minnesota Legislature put a hurtful amendment on the 2012 ballot that would’ve permanently excluded same-sex couples and their families from marriage,” the organization said in a statement. “The Minnesota Senate has just taken a historic step towards affirming what we already know to be true: Marriage is about the love, commitment, and responsibility that two people share, and it is time to stop denying that to some Minnesotans just because of who they are.”
Minnesota becomes the first midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage through legislative means; Iowa previously legalized same-sex marriage through the courts. It is likely to be joined soon by Illinois, where marriage equality has already passed the state senate. Since May 1st, three states — Delaware, Minnesota, and Rhode Island — have legalized same-sex marriage.