Same-sex marriage supporters want to move quickly on a bill

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Supporters of legalizing same-sex marriage hope to speedily pass legislation in the first weeks of the upcoming legislative session.

That is, they hope to send a bill to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk prior to the release of February budget forecast.

“This kind of closes the loop of the election,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who looks to carry same-sex marriage legislation in the House.

Hausman, like Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, who plans to carry a same-sex marriage bill in the Senate, points to the failure of the Republican-sponsored marriage amendment last election as evidence of the state reaching a consensus on same-sex marriage.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, will be carrying same-sex marriage legislation this coming legislative session. The session begins on Jan. 8 at noon. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

A conversation has taken place, they argue.

“To me, I think the time has come,” said Marty, who has sponsored same-sex marriage bills in the past.

Hausman and Marty argue passage of same-sex marriage legislation needn’t be time consuming nor distract from the mission of setting the state budget.

Marty speaks of a two-hour debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee and an up or down vote.

Hausman is a bit more cautious, saying the number of committees a same-sex marriage bill might need to clear in the House depends on its legal implications and the desire of House leadership.

But she also looks to passing a bill before the final state budget numbers come out in the forecast.

Democrats control the legislature.

Dayton has long indicated his support for same-sex marriage, ceremonially vetoing the proposed marriage amendment when passed by the Republican-controlled legislature last session.

If lawmakers take their cue from voters in their districts, passage of the same-sex marriage legislation will be bipartisan, Hausman argues.

That’s because the amendment failed in about 20 districts that elected Republican House members, she said.

“It’s bipartisan,” she said of the perceived support.

Marty and Hausman stress passage of same-sex marriage legislation — Marty speaks of gender-neutral marriage law — would not require churches to marry same-sex couples.

“No church will be forced to marry (same-sex couples) if they don’t want to,” Marty said.

But because the Catholic Church, for instance, might debate same-sex marriage for decades, that shouldn’t prevent the state from taking action now, Marty said.

But Marty’s and Hausman’s views do not perfectly fit those expressed by DFL legislative leaders.

Senate Majority Leader-designate Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, anticipates that same-sex marriage legislation will be introduced.

“But I think the more pressing thing probably this session is the budget,” Bakk said.

“I still think we need to have a pretty significant conversation around the state on that (same-sex marriage) subject,” he said.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said his caucus hadn’t yet discussed anticipated same-sex marriage bills.

By bringing the issue up, Democrats are contradicting themselves, Daudt argued.

“What the DFL’s message (in the election) was, is that we shouldn’t be focused on divisive social issues,” he said.

Rather, lawmakers should focus on budgetary matters.

“It’s interesting how roles have switched,” Daudt said.

House Republicans thought long and hard about proposing the marriage amendment, Daudt explained.

And they will debate the issue seriously again, he said.

“These are complex issues that affect people’s lives,” Daudt said.

“I don’t think anybody takes them lightly on either side of the aisle,” he said.

Although not specifically speaking on same-sex marriage, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, recently indicated that he did not support extending state employee benefits to same-sex partners.

About 1.4 million Minnesotans voted “Yes” on the marriage amendment defining marriage as between man and woman, with about 1.5 million voting “No.”

About 40,000 voters left the amendment ballot question blank, an omission or decision that automatically translated into a “No” vote.

The marriage amendment was approved by voters in Anoka, Carver, Chisago, Houston, Isanti, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Sherburne, and Wright counties.

It failed in Dakota, Hennepin, Scott, Ramsey and Washington counties.