Minnesota gay marriage deal has roots in gun debate

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 11, 2013 - 11:53 PM

Shelving gun bills helped complete a turnaround in just one session and set up Monday’s Senate vote.


The scene at the Capitol rotunda after Thursday’s vote.

Photo: David Joles • djoles@startribune.com,

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 At first, it looked like a long shot.

It’s just too soon, some DFL leaders were saying at the beginning of the year. Then polls confirmed as much: A majority of Minnesotans was uneasy too.

Now Minnesota is on the cusp of becoming the 12th state in the nation to make same-sex marriage legal.

Last week, by a surprisingly comfortable margin, House members approved the measure in a raucous, emotional day of debate, the likes of which are rarely seen at the Capitol. On Monday, the DFL-led Senate is poised to follow suit, with even GOP leaders conceding the votes are there. If the bill passes the Senate, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton could sign it into law by Tuesday.

“I feel like I’ve just watched a revolution from start to finish,” said the Rev. Meg Riley, a Unitarian Universalist minister who has campaigned for marriage equality for more than half of her 57 years.

If so, it’s a revolution that stemmed from an intensive, mostly behind-the-scenes campaign to persuade DFLers — and a handful of GOP legislators — that now is the time to grant gay and lesbian couples the right to legally wed. Its success also is due to a decision by a key DFL leader to abandon efforts to pass new gun laws, relieving lawmakers from conservative areas of hard votes on two divisive social issues.

Fast turnaround

The turnaround on same-sex marriage has been dramatic.

Just two years ago opponents seized a surprise opportunity to try to permanently ban it in Minnesota.

After winning unprecedented control of both chambers in the Legislature, Republicans decided to ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would permanently make same-sex marriage illegal.

The amendment touched off the most ferocious battle of the 2012 elections in the state, galvanizing activists on both sides and drawing millions of dollars in campaign spending.

In a stunning defeat, Minnesota voters rejected the measure, the first to do so among the 31 states that have voted on the question.

When it was over, gay marriage remained illegal. Unwilling to waste momentum, Minnesotans United for All Families, the lead group pushing for same-sex marriage, moved quickly to hire a dozen seasoned lobbyists to press its case at the Capitol, including several with deep Republican ties.

Then a fresh obstacle arose: DFLers had won control of the House and Senate and wanted to make overdue budget issues their priority.

They were jubilant at the amendment’s defeat but wary of legalization.

Many advocates at the Capitol advised waiting three, even five years on the marriage issue, said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United.

Carlbom started meeting with DFLers to discuss the politics and ethics of the issue. “Once you decide that somebody is being denied a basic freedom, how in the world can you say, ‘We are going to let it wait another year?’ ” he said.

Slowly, Carlbom made inroads, but his group remained a long way from a majority.

  • Same-sex Marriage: What’s next?

    What: The Minnesota Senate will vote on a repeal of the statute that now bans same-sex marriage

    When: At noon Monday

    What’s next: If the Senate approves the appeal, Gov. Mark Dayton will sign the bill into law early next week. Gay and lesbian couples could begin legally marrying, or could have their out-of-state marriages legally recognized, as of Aug. 1.

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