Small steps made for LGBT equality this session

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LGBT rights activists have reason to celebrate this legislative session as steps — albeit baby ones — were made in the area of LGBT equality. While the majority of more than a dozen bills failed to even make it out of legislative committee, a few found their way to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s desk, with one bill becoming law.

Health Care Agent

One major success for same-sex couples is the Health Care Agent law signed by Pawlenty on Tuesday. Before the law was passed, same-sex couples did not have guaranteed access to their partners’ medical information in the event that one member of the couple is incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate. Only a spouse or next of kin had the right to know the condition of a loved one. The new law puts Minnesota in line with federal law. Same-sex couples still have to draw up the proper forms in order to be each other’s health care agent, but now Minnesota law expressly recognizes those forms.

“Not since 1993 has a Minnesota Governor signed stand-alone pro-GLBT legislation into law!” OutFront Minnesota said in an email to supporters. “We used to have to hire lawyers to beef up the form for us, but now the state form gives more access. This is a fabulous success!”

Safe Schools for All

An anti-bullying bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as many other characteristics, was passed by the legislature after emotional debate. The bill directs school districts and charter schools to develop comprehensive anti-bullying policies. No one is sure whether Pawlenty will sign the bill, but it passed the Senate and House by large bipartisan margins, so an override is a possibility should he reject the bill.

Marriage and Family Protection Act

The Marriage and Family Protection Act picked up the support of a remarkable number of legislators. Despite that, no action was taken. Doug Benson, a citizen, authored the legislation that was then carried by Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, and Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis. Despite a large number of cosponsors, no action was ever taken on the bill:

Benson shared his synopsis of the bill’s fate:

We had 32 legislators signed on this year as opposed to 19 in 2008. We filled one bill in the Senate and had enough support to offer a duplicate bill, SF2145, which I dropped in last week and was introduced on Thursday 5/13.

The responsibility for the lack of progress on marriage equality this session rests with the DFL leadership in the House and Senate. I was told and I believe they actively tried to block progress on all of the marriage equality bills this session. They obviously succeeded.

There has been talk of a possible joint informational hearing during the recess that would not include a vote. Even though this is far less than we had hoped for at this point, it would create some energy around marriage equality and bring the House and Senate together on the issue. With an informational hearing out of the way, it could result in early committee votes next session. That’s what we’re hoping for. No arrangement has been made at this point.

Final Wishes Act

A bill to allow the surviving partner in a same-sex couple to make the final determination of what happens to the body when a partner dies did not make it to the governor. The bill passed the Senate but the House took no action this session.

Preserving One’s Home

Currently, Minnesota law only allows a spouse to remain in a home after the death of a homeowner — liens and other actions against the property cannot force the surviving spouse out of the home. Preserving One’s Home says that if a same-sex partner owns a home and his/her partner has set up a homestead with him/her, the surviving partner is allowed to retain the homestead. The bill passed the House and Senate but was not presented to the governor. Update: The bill was presented to the governor Wednesday afternoon.

Domestic Partner Benefits

Domestic partner benefits for state employees lost to the budget battle last week. A bill to allow the unions to add health, life and dental benefits to their contracts was added to the omnibus state government bill. Conference committee members stripped the language out of the omnibus bill after Pawlenty threatened a veto. Pawlenty signed the omnibus bill on Saturday without the domestic partner language.

The text removed from the omnibus bill read, “If a collective bargaining agreement or plan provides state paid health insurance for spouses of employees, the insurance must be made available to a domestic partner of a state employee on the same terms and conditions.”

Out of State Marriage

A bill that would authorize Minnesota to grant the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples that were legally married in other states failed to make it out of committee this session. In fact, the bill never received a hearing.

Civil Unions

A bill to allow civil unions in Minnesota was introduced this session. The bill would change the word “marriage” in state statute to “civil union contract,” effectively taking the state out of the religious aspects of marriage. The bill would also change the definition of civil union to mean “two parties, recognized by the state of Minnesota” instead of “a civil contract between a man and a woman,” opening proposed civil union contract language to same-sex couples. The bill was only offered in the House and never received a committee hearing.

Gender Neutral Marriage

A bill was offered in the House and Senate to make Minnesota’s marriage laws gender neutral. It never got a committee hearing.

Marriage Study

A bill to study the impact of Minnesota’s marriage laws on same-sex couples was offered in both the Senate and the House, but no action was taken this session.

Constitutional Amendment

Marriage equality foes offered three constitutional amendments to ban domestic partnerships, civil unions and same-sex marriage in Minnesota. No action was taken on any of those bills.

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