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The bonds of marriage divided the Minnesotans who came to the Legislature Tuesday.
For one day, the House and Senate invited the public to share their hopes and fears over the idea of legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota. They came. They cried. They shared deeply personal stories. And both sides spoke again and again about the value they see in the institution of marriage.
“People are already uncomfortable voicing their support for traditional marriage outside of church, based on their religious beliefs, for fear of being labeled a bigot or narrow-minded or holier than thou,” said Pastor Gus Booth, who traveled down from Warroad, Minn., to testify. “Why must the rights of conscience continually bow to redefine marriage?”
Kate Wulf told lawmakers she doesn’t want to redefine marriage. She just wants to participate. Wulf and her wife, Marianne Christianson, carry their Canadian marriage certificate with them when they travel as tangible proof of their three-decade bond.
“Some places consider us married. Others consider us strangers,” she told members of the House Civil Law Committee. “Marriage is important. It provides stability in our communities; it sets an example of long-term faithful commitment. ... Recognizing our marriage, allowing other couples like us to marry, doesn’t redefine marriage, it honors the tradition of marriage.”
The debate began early in the morning and ended late in the evening. In the end, both the House and Senate passed the marriage equality bill out of committee, moving it one step closer to a vote by the full Legislature. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would sign the bill if it passes the Legislature, but the Democratic leadership in both houses say the budget will be their priority in the coming weeks, before they even consider bringing up the marriage bills.
In a recent Star Tribune poll, some 53 percent of Minnesotans said they would not support legalization of same-sex marriage. Only 38 percent said the state should do so.
The debate in the Legislature Tuesday drew a stark contrast between those who see legalizing same-sex marriage as a matter of civil rights, and those who see it as an assault not only on traditional marriage, but also on parenthood.
“Which parent do I not need? My mom or my dad?“ 11-year-old Grace Evans asked lawmakers as she testified before the House Tuesday morning.
It takes a man and a woman to make a baby, Evans said, and it should take a man and a woman to parent that child.
“If you change the law so two moms or two dads can get married, it would take away something very important for children like me across the state,” she said, before running through a long list of qualities she cherishes in her parents.
But University of Minnesota law student David Patton said being raised by two men did him no harm.
“For those of you that are worried about the children being raised by gay parents, let me assure you, we’re doing fine,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “You would be amazed what gay dads can teach you about how to impress women.”
The Legislature was as divided as the citizens who came to testify. Both bills passed out of committee on straight party-line votes.
Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, said his opposition to the marriage legislation didn’t mean he should be branded a bigot or bully.
“We want to treat everybody with love and respect [and] I think we can do that without redefining marriage,” he said. “Is this about romantic sexual relationship? Or is it about the benefits? The money? What is it you really want? Marriage doesn’t make you more or less valuable. You’re all valuable.”
Rep. Karen Clark, who sponsored the House version of the bill, showed her colleagues a picture taken 20 years ago, when she marched with her parents and her partner to celebrate the state’s passage of legislation that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“My parents proudly carried a sign that said ‘Our gay children should have the same rights as our heterosexual children.’ They carried that, and my mother told me she cried all the way ... because she was so moved and proud of what had happened,” she said. “If either of my parents were alive today, I’m sure they would be here to say that no member of anyone’s family — gay or straight — should be singled out and denied their basic freedom to marry simply because of who we are.”