It was a historic day on the House Floor Thursday.
With chants from the thousands of people on both sides of the issue gathered in the Capitol Rotunda filtering through the House Chamber’s closed doors, the House chaplain called for a tone of “mutual honor, respect and integrity,” in the debate that was about to begin.
“I’m happy and proud to be here today. … It reminds me of 20 years ago when we added sexual orientation to the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The passage of that law took 20 years. The bill today has taken another 20 years.”
After three hours of sometimes emotional debate, the bill passed 75-59 and now moves to the Senate where Sen. D. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls) is the sponsor. A vote in that body is scheduled for Monday.
(ABOVE: A large crowd gathers in the Capitol Rotunda after HF1054, the marriage equality bill, was passed 75-59 by the House May 9. Photo by Paul Battaglia)
The bill proposes to 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 from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies, if the law would be in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs.
The bill’s introduction came six months after voters turned down a ballot measure to place in the state constitution a definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Clark (pictured at right; photo by Paul Battaglia) said that rejection opened the door for today’s action. “There has been a lot of discussion about what marriage is, and love, commitment and the responsibility that two people can share.” She said that Minnesota values are not about excluding people. “Freedom means freedom for everyone. … It is time that people should be able to marry the people they love.”
For some, the bill goes against their religious values, and they fear that it could open up lawsuits for those institutions that choose to not support or participate in same-sex marriages. Others think it’s not the role of government to define marriage.
Rep. David FitzSimmons (R-Albertville) successfully offered an amendment that would address the two main objections. Adopted on a voice vote, it would substantially change terminology by inserting “civil” before the word “marriage,” in all state statute references. He was also successful in adding further legal protections for religious organizations that would refuse to participate or support civil marriages
“This offers the distinction between what is happening in the church and what happens in the courthouse. … We need to make sure to the best of our ability that we are not infringing on others’ rights. I believe this amendment can help ensure that those protections of conscious exist,” FitzSimmons (pictured at left; photo by Paul Battaglia) said.
There remain those who think that government should get out of the marriage business.
Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing) sponsors HF1805, which calls for a civil union to be considered by the state as a contract between two parties, who are at least 18 years of age. Wherever in statute the term marriage is referenced, the term civil union contract would be inserted as well.
The bill has yet to receive a hearing, but he unsuccessfully made his case for the measure through an amendment to the Clark bill. “This debate is over one word: marriage. Marriage is to be found nowhere in the constitution.”
He said his bill would take marriage out of the statutes, giving everyone equal rights. “We might not agree with everyone here on the word ‘marriage,’ but we should not impose our views on everyone. So here we are today, this is a great day. We can put an end to discrimination by pulling the words out of the constitution.”
Members defeated his amendment in a 111-22 vote. Before doing so, many spoke about the historical role of marriage. Rep. Kelby Woodard (R-Belle Plaine) described it as the “bedrock of our society.”
Justice is knocking
Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) served in the House when Clark was successful in adding protections in the state’s Human Rights Act to gay and lesbians. He said there are special moments as a legislator, and how justice comes knocking, and the courage it takes to open that door.
“Today the door is rattling. Justice is at the door again. Justice comes knocking until the door is opened. Thank you for wrestling honestly. … It acknowledges doubt, it demands that we grow,” he said.
The bill carries a financial cost that could be absorbed in state agency budgets. According to the fiscal note discussed Monday in the House Ways and Means Committee, the bill would cost about $688,000 to fund health benefits for about 114 new spouses of state employees in a same-sex marriage.
There is a revenue increase component to the bill, as well. Assuming an Aug. 1, 2013, effective date, the analysis shows a slight revenue gain from fees collected on the 5,186 same-sex couples that are anticipated to seek a marriage license. This number would be expected to decrease in future years.
The report also assumes that there will be an increase in divorce fillings by 86 beginning in 2015. Currently $50 of each divorce filing fee goes to the state’s General Fund and $30 of each filling goes to the Department of Employment and Economic Development for the Displaced Homemaker Program.