The simmering fight over same-sex marriage spilled into the open Monday, as both sides erupted in a final, frantic push on an issue that has divided the State Capitol for months.
Several Republican legislators who have spent years trying to defend marriage as a union between one man and one woman said they are coming to believe that gay marriage could soon be legal under DFL legislative control.
“Is it inevitable? I’d say probably,” said Rep. Michael Beard, R-Shakopee. “I mean, marriage is what it is, but they are redefining words and redefining meanings that have been in use for centuries because it is the cause of the week, the flavor of the month.”
Legislators are possibly days away from voting on a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage — a vote expected to be one of the closest of the year. With two weeks left in the legislative session, the shrinking number of undecided legislators is rapidly running out of time to take a stand on an issue that could have grave re-election consequences.
Legislators are getting pounded with e-mails, calls and visits from constituents on every side of the issue. Daily visits from the swarms of lobbyists on both sides are now the norm.
Rep. Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids, on Monday got an e-mail with the subject line: “Don’t mess with marriage in Minnesota!” The message pleaded with Newton to refrain from putting “the desires of a small group ahead of the fundamental human rights of all children.”
Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, is among a rare breed at the Capitol these days, a lawmaker undecided on the issue.
“It’s just a very, very personal issue for people,” he said. “It’s really unlike any other issue at the Capitol these days.”
Freshman Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake, also continues to wrestle with the issue. The retired schoolteacher said that a neighbor on one side supports same-sex marriage and his other neighbor strongly opposes it. Both are former students.
McNamar said he will likely make up his mind on the issue the moment of the final vote.
Others are already under fire at home. Doug Kern, deputy chair of the Crow Wing County Republican Party, said Monday he is starting a recall petition against Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby. Radinovich announced his support for same-sex marriage, though opposition in his area remains strong.
In a final show of force, the group trying to defeat the measure marched in dozens of advocates — children, ministers, business people and New York City officials — for a cramped Capitol news conference where they spent nearly an hour trying to cast doubt on protections for religious objectors to gay marriage.
Minnesota for Marriage on Monday afternoon brought a couple of town officials from New York state, where same-sex marriage is legal, to talk about how they had to resign before they would have been forced to process marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples even though doing so went against their religious beliefs.
“In New York, we were promised that the religious freedom amendment to our same-sex marriage legislation would do the job,” said the Rev. Jason McGuire, president of New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation. “Our legislators bought the lie and today every New Yorker is living the lie.”
Hours later, a House committee nevertheless nudged the proposal closer to final passage.
“We are confident that votes on the freedom to marry will happen in the Minnesota Legislature,” said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United, which is leading the effort to legalize same-sex marriage.
Debate might be ending
One by one, some legislators are making rare public displays in the Capitol.
Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, has an orange-and-blue same-sex “marriage supporter” sticker affixed to her office nameplate. Two floors down, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, has a giant sign to greet office visitors: “Don’t mess with marriage.”
The long debate over marriage is taking its toll on lawmakers as they head into the what could be its final week at the Capitol.
On Monday morning, with the House and Senate still undecided on the timing of floor votes, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, bear-hugged Rep. Karen Clark, the chief sponsor of the marriage measure.
“You let me know what you need this week,” Hornstein said. “Anything. Sandwiches. Soft drinks. You name it.”
Clark smiled, holding his arm: “You are so sweet.”