ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota House and Senate lawmakers have given crucial victories to supporters of same-sex marriage.
The House Civil Law Committee passed a bill to legalize gay marriage Tuesday night on a 10-7 party-line vote, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposed. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill earlier Tuesday.
It was the first time state legislative committees have backed marriage rights for gay couples. The bills now head to the floor, where a final vote is not expected until much later in session.
The Democratic-led Legislature is pressing ahead with the marriage bill after voters defeated a constitutional amendment last November that would have fortified an existing ban on same-sex marriage. Gov. Mark Dayton says he will sign the bill if it reaches him.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
A mother's voice tearfully trembled as she spoke of seeing her gay son marry one day. A child plainly asked Minnesota lawmakers: "Which parent do I not need, my mom or my dad?"
A Senate panel heard that dueling testimony Tuesday before giving an early victory to a measure that would legalize gay marriage in the state, despite warnings from foes who argued it was being rushed through without a full grasp of the consequences.
The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed the bill on a five-to-three vote, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposed. It now heads to the Senate floor, where a final vote is not expected until much later in the session. Sen. Scott Dibble, an openly gay Democrat from Minneapolis, said he's "reasonably confident" his bill can pass the full Senate.
The House Civil Law Committee was expected to vote on the companion bill later Tuesday night. The Associated Press polled members of the committee last week and found the measure was sure to pass.
Backers were moving to capitalize on the November defeat of a ballot measure amendment that would have written a traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman into the constitution. They also saw hope in a state government entirely in Democratic hands for the first time in two decades.
The committee action followed hours of testimony from pastors, business executives, parents, children, gay couples and others.
Randi Reitan sat next to her husband of 40 years and their son Jacob, who came out as gay 15 years ago. She told the House panel Tuesday morning that the time for gay marriage had come.
"We want Jacob to have the joy of a wedding, the firm foundation a marriage brings to families and the societal support that comes with all marriage," she said.
Jacob Reitan spoke of watching as his three siblings got married and hoping for the chance to do the same. "As a gay man I should have the same opportunity to marry as my three siblings," he said. "My desire to love is no less valid and no less worthy of recognition by our state as theirs."
But opponents of same-sex marriage were equally forceful in their defense of the current law, saying change would undermine society's family structure.
Grace Evans, 11, said children learn different things from parents of different genders and that's why "God made it that way."
Evans said her mother "is my role model on how to be a girl and I love her very much. My dad is also very important to me because he protects me and helps me get the confidence to be a girl who is growing up to be a woman. He takes care of me in a way my mom cannot."
Staring into the eyes of House lawmakers, Evans twice asked which she could do without. She got no answer.
The public comments had a familiar ring in a Capitol where the definition of marriage has been a source of friction for at least 10 years. It was only two years ago that Republicans put the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chairwoman of Minnesota-based resort chain Carlson Cos., spoke out against that amendment and helped gather more than $1 million in support for the campaign fighting it.
"Now, it's time to finish what we started," she told the Senate committee. Opponents disputed that the defeat of the marriage amendment is a referendum to enact gay marriage.
Several questioned whether the bill gives enough protection to religious institutions and others who may object to same-sex marriage. The bill stipulates that churches would not be required to perform same-sex marriages.
Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who worked in former President George W. Bush's administration, urged the Legislature to extend the right to marry to all Minnesotans.
"Republicans understand that some things are none of the government's business, and one of them is who you marry," Painter said.
Sen. Branden Petersen, of Anoka, is the only current Republican lawmaker so far who has publically supported the bill.
Before voting against the bill, Sen. Dan Hall said that marriage in itself doesn't make anyone more or less valuable. He, like many other opponents of the bill, said the definition of marriage should be left up to God.
"Is it about romantic sexual relationship? Or is it about the benefits, the money?" the Burnsville Republican asked. "What is it that you really want?"
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he would sign the bill if the Legislature sends it to him. Same-sex weddings could begin in August. Gay marriage is legal in nine U.S. states and under consideration in others.