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Four GOP House members voted 'yes' on same sex marriage; two Dems voted 'no'

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger under Minnesota campaigns, Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators, Democrats, Republicans Updated: May 9, 2013 - 7:22 PM

Showing that same sex marriage is not a strictly partisan issue, four House Republicans on Thursday voted to legalize it and two Democrats voted not to.

Republican Reps. Pat Garofalo, of Farmington, David FitzSimmons, of Albertville, Rep. Jenifer Loon, of Eden Prairie, and Rep. Andrea Kieffer, of Woodbury, voted 'yes.' DFL Reps. Patti Fritz, of Faribault and Mary Sawatsky, of Willmar, voted 'no.'

Their decisions, which added to the 75-59 House vote for legalization, came after long, wrenching months of lobbying, a myriad of email and pressure from all sides.

"It is an issue that the state has been having for a long time," said Loon. Last year, 58 percent of her district voted against the constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage.

She said she made her decision as she listened to floor speeches on Thursday, with an email from one of her daughter's best friend's on her mind. The email revealed that the friend was gay.

"It was a culmination of really an outpouring of input from my constituents across the district, Republicans, Democrats," said loon. "I've heard from so many parents with gay children. For them this is so important for them having their children accepted in society."

On the House floor on Thrusday, she quoted turn-of-the-century newspaper editor William Allen White as saying, "Liberty is only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others."

For the Republicans, a key moment came when lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a change the bill in a way FitzSimmons proposed. It added the word 'civil' in front of the word 'marriage' in state law and made absolutely clear that no religious institution could be punished if it chooses not to solemnize any civil marriage.

"As a Catholic, this was very important to me," said Garofalo. He said he knew the House would vote to legalize same sex marriage with or without his vote but he wanted to vote for it to make sure that religious organizations -- including Catholic charities -- would be protected.

His district was split last year with 51 percent voting for to define marriage as only the union of one man and one woman.

FitzSimmons, whose district voted 53 percent to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage, said he plans to watch the law as it goes forward to make sure that indeed religious organizations are not penalized for their beliefs. 

Although the Republican votes for came as a surprise -- up until the voting board lit up it was unclear if the measure would get any GOP support --  the two Democratic votes against it were less so.

Both Democrats come from districts that strongly backed last year's constitutional amendments.

“I am elected to listen to my constituents, and what they are consistently telling me is that marriage is a union between one man and one woman,” Sawatzky said earlier this year.  “I need to listen to the constituents of my county.”

On Monday when the Senate takes up the same sex marriage measure, at least one Democrat -- Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, of Plummer, has made clear he plans to vote against it -- and at least one Republican -- Sen. Branden Petersen, of Andover, will vote for it.

Petersen, a co-sponsor of the legalization measure, said he expects he four to six Republicans will join him in supporting it.

"It's looking more like the higher end now," Petersen said.

Of the four Republican votes in the House, he said: "It's huge, it's great and that's what we've been working on the last few months..It's a good thing for the state of Minnesota to know that it's not 100 percent a partisan issue."

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