A bipartisan coalition in the Minnesota House passed a measure Thursday to legalize same sex-marriage, setting in motion what could be a historic turning point for gay and lesbian rights in Minnesota.

“All Minnesotans deserve the freedom to marry the person they love and we are proud to take this historic vote to ensure same-sex couples have that right,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.

The dramatic vote came after a sometimes passionate, three-hour debate that culminated when four Republican members privately wrestling with the issue joined a majority of Democrats to pass the measure 75-59. The debate raged as hundreds of advocates from both sides gathered outside the House gallery chanting, waving signs and praying.

Opponents failed in their last-minute push to persuade a crucial few legislators that the DFL-controlled Legislature is going against the wishes of a majority of Minnesotans. They are now regrouping to convince Senators that marriage is a union between one man and one woman ordained by God, not any state or federal law. A final Senate vote comes Monday.

“My heart breaks for Minnesota,” said a Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover.

“It’s a divisive issue that divides our state,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes as she stood on the House floor after the vote. “It’s not what we needed to be doing at this time. We want to come together for the state of Minnesota, we don’t want to divide it.”

The issue is undergoing a remarkable transformation in the state. Just two years ago, Republicans who then controlled the Legislature put a measure on the ballot that would have inserted into the Constitution a ban on same-sex marriage. Voters defeated the measure, sending one of the first faint signals in what is becoming a profound national shift on the issue. Within months, advocates from the other side returned to the Capitol to press legislators to make Minnesota the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage.

The debate stands to be the most divisive, dramatic and unpredictable at the Capitol this year.

In the days after the vote was announced, same-sex opponents pounded Thissen’s office with calls, at the rate of one a minute. Minnesotans United, which is pushing for same-sex marriage, kept up its relentless lobbying effort on uncommitted lawmakers.

“Justice is knocking,” said state Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul. “How often does justice come knocking? Until we open the door.”

Same-sex marriage opponents renewed their calls to leave marriage as it is.

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said he fears that schools will eventually be forced to teach students about homosexuality in sex education classes, normalizing what he considers deviant behavior.

“Thinks about what’s best for the children,” Gruenhagen said. “Please vote for the children.”

Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, said the measure sends a terrible message to Minnesotans who oppose same-sex marriage.

“We are classifying half of Minnesotans as bigots in this bill — and they are not,” Woodard said.

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said he was raised by a mother and a father and continues to believe that is best for children, but “I am not a homophobe or a Neanderthal or a hater.”