GOP Minnesota legislator preparing to co-sponsor gay marriage bill

Before becoming a co-sponsor, Branden Petersen has concerns.

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Before signing on a co-sponsor of the bill to legalize gay marriage, state Sen. Branden Petersen outlined several concerns in the measure.

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Republican state Sen. Branden Petersen is preparing to become a co-sponsor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

Having a Republican co-author would be an enormous political coup for same-sex marriage advocates as they prepare to unveil their proposal in the days ahead. Petersen would become the first Republican legislator to publicly support same-sex marriage, highlighting the rapidly changing dynamics of the issue at the Capitol.

“At this point, I am concerned about doing the right thing,” said Petersen, an Andover resident who is married and has two young children. “I have a certain amount of peace about that, and I will let the chips fall where they may.”

Petersen was among a majority of Republican legislators who put a state constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot asking voters to add language banning same-sex marriage. Minnesota became the first state to defeat such an amendment after 30 others had passed similar measures; that result gave opponents what they say is significant momentum to return and try to erase the state’s long-standing law against same-sex marriage.

With passage far from certain, the fight is shaping up to be among the most divisive at the Capitol this year.

Republicans like Petersen are not the only ones who face the prospect of crossing lines against most of their party members on the issue. Several rural DFLers oppose same-sex marriage, bucking the party’s slim majority now in control of the Legislature.

“I feel strongly in my beliefs that it is not something I would support,” said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, the only DFLer in the Senate who voted in favor of putting the marriage amendment on the 2012 ballot. “It’s a sacrament in our church. I’m Catholic.”

Stumpf, of Plummer, said that fellow DFLers understand his stance and did not pressure him to change his vote. He suspects others in the party will stand with him against same-sex marriage.

That means same-sex marriage advocates are likely to need a handful of Republicans to pass the measure.

“Republican support is something we want to make sure we have,” said Jake Loesch, a Republican and spokesman for Minnesotans United for All Families, the lead group trying to legalize same-sex marriage. “Republicans are weighing this issue. … As this conversation continues in the Legislature, there will be Republicans who will vote for marriage.”

Wants concerns addressed

Petersen said he has several concerns that must be addressed before he will sign onto the measure. He wants to add language guaranteeing that any religious leader can choose not to wed same-sex couples. He also insists that kids in same-sex marriages have the same financial guarantees as children of other married couples in time of divorce.

“It’s only a matter of time before same-sex marriage is legal,” Petersen said. “I thought it was important to engage the issue now, and when we do it, do it right, and that there’s some perspective from the people I represent in that.”

Sen. Scott Dibble, who is chief sponsor of the bill, said he is willing to agree to Petersen’s additions.

“Everything he has articulated, I see no problem with. At all,” said Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.

He said he would be thrilled to have a GOP co-sponsor.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “I think it also allows a lot of space for other legislators to consider the same.”

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