A bill that would establish license plates for women veterans in Minnesota has passed both the House and Senate and is heading to Gov. Mark Dayton's desk.

The measure passed unanimously in the House and by a 54-9 vote on Monday in the Senate, where there was unusual debate about the propriety of providing a separate license plate to women.

"Honor is honor. Service is service. A soldier is a soldier. Today we are trying to divide them," said Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, an opponent of the bill, who said her mother, a veteran, would be embarrassed by the idea.

Advocates for these license plates argue that they would go a long way toward removing the invisibility that many women veterans feel, even among the well-meaning.

In Minnesota, there are an estimated 29,000 women vets, about 8 percent of the state's veteran population.

The bill establishes the plates bearing the inscription "Woman Veteran." A design would be worked out later. Women would pay the same $10 charged for all veteran plates to cover the costs. If signed by Dayton, the plates would be available starting in January of 2015.

The plates would be part of an array of specialty plates offered to veterans. They now include plates commemorating service in World War II, the Korean conflict, Laotian vets, Iraq and Afghanistan vets, and for vets wounded in combat. Minnesota was one of the first states to propose the idea, and now nine other states have adopted ­similar plates.

For any elected official, a "no vote" on anything related to veterans may be hard to explain, especially when it can show up on an opponent's campaign literature. While numerous state veterans groups were supportive of the measure, Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, who opposed the bill, said during floor debate that the groups only bowed to political correctness.

"If they [the veterans groups] didn't have the courage to stand up for what they believe in, that's their problem," he said.