by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
For better or for worse, history is about to be made.
The Democratic-led House on Thursday, May 9, is expected to vote on marriage legislation that could make Minnesota the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage. The Democratic-led Senate could have a vote on the legislation on Monday, May 13, assuming the House takes action Thursday.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton would be proud to sign the marriage legislation into law, he said.
“I think the enormity of this bill cannot be overstated,” Dayton said.
In meeting with the House and Democratic DFL caucuses, Dayton suggested Democrats read President John Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage.”
The marriage vote comes six months after Minnesota voters rejected a Republican-sponsored proposed constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage in the state constitution as between a man and a woman.
Though it failed overall, in counties such as Isanti and Mille Lacs, the amendment was approved by sizeable margins.
“Metro people are trying to force same-sex marriage on everyone else,” Autumn Leva, Minnesota for Marriage, said. Minnesota for Marriage opposes same-sex marriage.
The same-sex marriage issue has long been simmering in Minnesota.
The magnet issue has attracted thousands to the State Capitol and seen the rise of Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who, as state senator, carried the proposed constitutional amendment.
“This isn’t about me,” Bachmann insisted in May of 2004. “I would hate it if it was,” she said.
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said the marriage legislation would not be brought to the House floor unless votes existed to pass it. It’s believed the votes are there.
For Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-Fridley, Thursday’s expected vote is not a hard one.
“I think that equity for everyone is a social justice issue,” she said. “Sometimes votes are hard,” Bernardy said.
But she views the perceived equity aspect of the debate as reflecting fundamental American values.
“It makes the vote much easier to support,” Bernardy said.
Another Democrat who will not flinch pushing the green “Yes” button is freshmen Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan.
“I’m going to vote for equity,” Halverson said. “Personally, it’s something that I have known my truth about for a very, very long time,” she said.
In part, Halverson came to this truth by observing the love in same-sex families, she said. She’s hopeful the marriage vote won’t become campaign fodder. But she feels good about it.
“What I’ve heard from constituents falls very much in favor of (marriage) equity,” she said.
The decision for Bernardy and Halverson may have been made easier by last fall’s amendment vote.
In Bernardy’s House District 41A, only about 45 percent of voters voted “Yes” on the amendment. In House District 51B, Halverson’s district, even a lower percentage of voters, about 38 percent, voted “Yes.”
But things are different for Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, a minister, by profession, and a legislator who’s planning to vote for the marriage bill. In House District 11B, about 63 percent of voter’s voted “Yes.”
“It will be a tough vote for me,” Faust said.
But he doesn’t promise voters much when running for office, other than he’ll follow this conscience first, district second and state third, he said.
“My conscience, and the good of the district, and the good of the state, are all saying this the right thing to do,” Faust said.
When asked why Christians differ on the marriage issue, Faust, who belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said some of the difference arises from confusion over biblical text.
“When I look at the places in the Bible about homosexuality, so many of them are misinterpreted or mistranslated,” he said.
Faust lost re-election in 2010, being sent back to office last November. He’s mindful he’ll face voters next year.
“I am worried about that, of course,” Faust said.
But Faust believes in general he’s in lockstep with his district.
“If you look at just about every other issue that’s on the radar screen for the people of my district — I agree, 70, 80 percent of the time, or more,” he said.
One Republican who has prominently figured in the marriage debate is Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville.
For a time, Holberg carried the amendment legislation while Bachmann carried it in the Senate.
Anti-amendment advocates at rallies once wore T-shirts with photos of Holberg and Bachmann on the front.
Asked whether conservatives were on the wrong side of history in regard to same-sex marriage, Holberg questioned it.
“I don’t know if it’s the wrong side. I think we’re on the side of the majority of Minnesotans,” she said.
Holberg carried the amendment the first time because she chaired the House Civil Law Committee and was concerned about perceived judicial activism.
“But others wanted to take up the banner, and that was fine of me,” Holberg said.
The marriage debate has been emotional.
“There were threats on my family’s life. I wasn’t allowed to be outside the Capitol alone,” Holberg said. Republicans were spit on in the Capitol corridors after passing the amendment two years ago, she said.
But she would temper her comments, Holberg said, by adding she has had conversations with Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, Senate marriage legislation bill author. “And many of those bad things he suffered as well. So I think the bad behavior occurs on both sides on the issue,” Holberg said.
Holberg has found the marriage debate frustrating. She recalled meeting with a woman who told her she would change her mind about same-sex marriage if she attended a corn feed that the sister put on.
“It’s pretty sad, because that’s not what this about. It’s not about people being nice,” Holberg said. “It’s about a definition of marriage and what that means,” she said.
Perhaps it is inevitable, at some point, the state would legalize same-sex marriage. “But I don’t think Minnesota is there yet. I really don’t,” Holberg said.
Minnesotans United, a group supporting passage of the marriage legislation, has announced that a group of interfaith leaders and marriage supporters will hold a prayer and vigil tonight at Christ Lutheran on Capitol Hill Church in St. Paul. A Minnesotans United spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Leva expects a large crowd of their supporters at the State Capitol on Thursday. It will be a last chance to meet with lawmakers, she said. They will also pray, she said.
No pressure is coming from Democratic legislative leaders to vote for the marriage bill, Bernardy said. No one’s arm is being twisted.
“I never saw it really as a debate. I saw it as a conversation,” she said of discussions within the House DFL Caucus.
“I think it’s very much of a historic vote,” Bernardy said.
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected]