ST. PAUL, Minn. - Democratic leaders in the state House have scheduled a vote they expect will lead to Minnesota joining a growing list of states to authorize marriage between same-sex couples.
House Speaker Paul Thissen said the 73-member Democratic majority had at least the 68 votes needed to send the bill on to the Senate and that a debate and vote on the bill in the 134-member House would take place Thursday.
"We feel comfortable that we have the votes," Thissen said Tuesday morning
"I think it's in line with the tradition we've had in Minnesota about respecting people, making sure everybody is included in our community and the fullness of participation in that," he said.
If the House passes the bill, it will progress to the state Senate, where passage has been seen as more secure than in the House. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has promised to sign the legislation that would allow gay marriage in Minnesota starting Aug. 1.
Thissen said House Democrats have enough votes to pass the bill, but that he hopes some Republican lawmakers will also back the legislation.
"It's not a partisan issue. You've seen many prominent Republicans speak out on this issue," Thissen said. To date, though, none of the 61 House Republicans have committed to vote for the bill. One Senate Republican, Branden Petersen of Andover, supports legalizing gay marriage.
Republican Rep. Tim Kelly was one of four GOP members to vote against a constitutional gay marriage ban in 2011. He said Tuesday he wouldn't vote to legalize gay marriage, but would rather push his alternative proposal to establish civil unions.
"My message has been consistent from day one. We should not be defining marriage in statute," Kelly said.
With no expectation of support from Republicans, House Democrats have had to lean on support from a handful of members from rural, more socially conservative areas where last fall's failed gay marriage ban racked up strong support from voters. But in recent days, a number of those members have come out in support of the bill.
"My brother is gay," said Rep. Shannon Savick, DFL-Albert Lea, who said she'd vote for the bill. "I watched my brother being discriminated against when we were younger. I just don't see why he shouldn't be able to marry the person he loves. I did."
Savick predicted her decision could cost her votes come 2014, when all House members are back on the ballot. A handful of House Democrats are still publicly undecided, and the House leaders wouldn't say exactly how many votes they had.
"It could cost me the election. I represent a very conservative area," Savick said. "I hope I do enough good in other areas that they'll overlook that."
Thissen and Majority Leader Erin Murphy said they met privately with undecided members but that Democrats weren't pressured.
"This is not an issue that is subject to arm-twisting," said Murphy, of St. Paul. "This is an issue where members really have to reach their own conclusion and vote what they think is right for Minnesota."
The planned House vote is a stunning turnabout. Just two years ago, the same House — then under Republican control — voted to put a constitutional gay marriage ban on the 2012 ballot. But Minnesota voters dealt the ban a surprise defeat, in what was seen as a national tipping point in popular support for gay marriage. In addition to the ban's defeat in Minnesota, residents of three other states voted to legalize gay marriage.
Gay marriage legislation is now moving in several other states. Last week, Rhode Island became the 10th state to legalize gay marriage. Delaware could become the 11th this week. In the Midwest, Iowa has had legal gay marriage since a 2009 judicial ruling. The Minnesota bill would make it the first Midwestern state to take the step by legislative vote, though a bill to legalize gay marriage is also working its way through the Illinois state legislature.
Richard Carlbom is head of Minnesotans United, a lobby group that campaigned against last fall's amendment and has subsequently pushed the gay marriage bill through the legislative process. He said the group has been conservative in its vote counting, and that commitments from legislators have been double- and triple-checked.
Carlbom said he hoped those inclined to vote `no' would consider the long view.
"The vote that will be taken in the House on Thursday will be remembered for the next 100 years," he said.
Associated Press reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this report.