Last November, Minnesota voters made history by making this the first state to reject a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. Now, six months later, state lawmakers should build upon that important vote by legalizing gay marriage.

It’s time to end to one of the last bastions of legal discrimination still standing in this state. In mid-March, state lawmakers passed SF925 and HF1054 out of committee; now both are headed for the House and Senate floors, and Gov. Mark Dayton says they have his support. Minnesota would become the 11th state to legalize gay marriage.

When two consenting adults care for each other and want to form a family, government should not stand in the way. In a free society that embraces civil and human rights, people should be able to marry the person they love.

The Star Tribune Editorial Board recognizes that last fall’s vote was far from unanimous. A recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll found that about 53 percent of Minnesotans oppose same-sex marriage. Thousands in this state continue to believe that marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman. Some object on religious and moral grounds and argue that marriage between two men or two women is a sin.

Freedom of speech and religion allows them to hold those views. But legalizing same-sex unions in the eyes of the state would not force any religion to violate its tenets. Religious doctrines to which not even all people of faith subscribe must not be used to deny all Minnesotans equal treatment by state law.

In addition, many opponents say they are all for equal rights, but cannot bring themselves to call a gay union a “marriage.’’ But if civil unions or domestic partnerships bring the same rights granted under marriage, why not call it what it is? There is no need to have two-tiered system to legally recognize the same set of rights.

Under this nation’s laws, married couples are automatically eligible for certain employment benefits, inheritance rights and health care decisionmaking authority. But where they are unable to legally marry, gay couples are unfairly denied those rights.

Some have argued that legalization must be done more slowly; that it will take time for more people to come around. It’s never too soon to do what’s right, humane and equitable. The “go slow’’ argument was also in play in the 1800s when slavery was the law of the land. Fortunately, President Abraham Lincoln ignored the more popular pressure to maintain human bondage.

That same thinking could be seen years later, when it was illegal for blacks and women to vote because it was “unpopular’’ among white, male voters.

In America, schools would not have been integrated and housing and employment opportunities would not have opened up if they had depended on majority popularity tests. Government or the courts had to step in. Civil and human rights — especially for minorities — ought not be left to majority votes.

More recent American history offers another example. Interracial marriage was illegal in 16 states until 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed race-based marriage bans. Those laws were wrong — just like prohibiting gay marriage is wrong today.

Increasingly, around the world and the nation, that message is sinking in. So far this year, Uruguay, New Zealand and France have legalized same-sex marriage, bringing the number of nations embracing marriage equality to 14. Without question, more will follow. And in the United States, last week Rhode Island joined nine other states and the District of Columbia in making gay marriage legal.

Those actions are consistent with poll after poll that have shown increasing acceptance and support for same-sex unions over the past decade.

Minnesota communities are blessed with abundant living and breathing proof that GLBT people and families are responsible, contributing citizens. They demonstrate every day that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in Minnesota and many other states is ridiculous. Gay couples and families pose no threat to matrimony or societal stability. Absolutely no “defending’’ is necessary.

The hearts and minds of Minnesotans were touched last fall by a campaign in which same-sex couples and their families, friends, neighbors and coworkers asked for basic equality.

A majority of Minnesotans then voted against enshrining discrimination in the state Constitution.

Those same sensibilities should drive legislators to take the next step and allow gay marriage in ­Minnesota.


An editorial of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Follow the editorial board: on Twitter  |  on Facebook   |  on Instagram | on Google+