Minnesotans overwhelmingly defeated a proposal in November 2012 to enshrine in the state constitution that marriage is between one man and one woman. With a bill before the House Civil Law Committee that would allow for same gender marriages, amendment supporters caution lawmakers not to interpret the previous voter mandate as support for this particular bill.
“I feel we didn’t vote to legalize same-sex marriage,” said Gus Booth, pastor at Warroad Community Church. “This is overreaching and not the will of the people. We now know we were sold a false bill of goods.”
However, bill supporters say it is not only a matter of equality and fairness, but that passage will ensure the state’s competiveness as it continues to attract young, educated people for its workforce.
Former Rep. Lynne Osterman, who served in the House from 2003-2004, said she has been troubled by her 2004 support of a bill to put the question of marriage between a man and a woman on the ballot. “Nothing in my life says that I should treat people differently than how I would want to be treated — fairly, respectfully equally; and that’s really what this conversation is about.”
More than 60 testifiers were scheduled to speak at Tuesday’s hearing. After the allotted 90-minute morning hearing block ended, the committee recessed until 6 p.m. The committee approved the bill on a 10-7 party-line vote and moved it to the full House for action. House Speaker Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) has said that, if passed to the House floor, the bill’s future would be in limbo until after the body finishes its budget work. The bill’s companion, SF925, sponsored by Sen. D. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls), was approved today in the Senate Judiciary Committee and now awaits action by the full body.
Clark’s long walk to the table
The road to Tuesday’s hearing was long for Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Mpls), the sponsor of HF1054. Openly gay and partnered for 24 years, Clark was instrumental in 1993 in adding discrimination for “sexual orientation” to the state’s Human Rights Act, which details several protected groups. The bill passed the House nearly 20 years ago to this month, and was later signed to law by Gov. Arne Carlson.
That discussion began 20 years prior to bill passage, Clark said. “This one has taken another 20 years. This time our vote is guided and strengthened by last November’s historic and resounding defeat of the anti-gay constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.”
The bill would change the state’s marriage laws from being male/female specific to authorize marriage and divorce of two persons, regardless of gender. It would provide exemptions for churches and other religious associations, if the law would be in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs. The bill was amended to deal with possible state law conflicts with federal law.
Family value message collides
Young and old, married and partnered, those in the ministry and those in business came before the House committee. Their messages collided on the theme of family values.
“A new, contemporary vision of marriage has not benefited us thus far, and has caused much division and much separation in our society, which is why, more than ever we need to cling to those beliefs that we know to be true,” said Eryn Sorensen, a Northwestern College senior.
But Kate Wulf of St. Paul sees it differently. She has been in a committed relationship since the early 1980s, and married her partner in 2005 when same-sex marriages became legal in Canada. She spoke of the legal difficulties that this presents in places, like Minnesota, where their marriage is not recognized. She also emphasized the difference between marriage and civil unions.
“Marriage is important,” she said. “It provides stability in our communities and is a symbol of long-term faithful commitment. Recognizing our marriage and allowing other couples like us to marry doesn’t redefine marriage, it honors the tradition of marriage.”
The business of equality
The younger generation as future employees drew Marilyn Nelson Carlson to the table in support of the bill. The chair of Carlson Companies Board of Directors said the business community cannot disadvantage itself among the next generation of workers. She said that studies show that those under age 45, by a 2:1 margin, favor the freedom to marry.
“We must aggressively retain our own young students and attract others to our state. … These young people, for the most part, are not attracted to discriminative environments in which to live and work.”
(Above: Former Republican Rep. Lynne Osterman gives emotional testimony before the House Civil Law Committee March 12 in support of a bill, sponsored by Rep. Karen Clark,right, that would legalize same-gender marriages in Minnesota.)
For more information: Resources on Minnesota Issues: Same-Sex Marriage in Minnesota
Flashback: Evolution of the state’s Human Rights Act – Session Weekly April 2, 1993.
2005 effort for constitutional amendment establishing marriage as between a man and a woman – Session Weekly- March 25, 2005 (Page 3-4)