With cheers and protests thundering through the Capitol, the Minnesota House on Thursday took a historic step toward legalizing same-sex marriage.
The bill passed 75-59 with resounding DFL support and the votes of four Republicans. The measure now goes to the Senate on Monday, where its passage is considered likely. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he intends to sign the bill into law, which would make Minnesota the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
“All Minnesotans deserve the freedom to marry the person they love, and we are proud to take this historic vote to ensure same-sex couples have that right,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, a Minneapolis DFLer who visibly choked up as he announced the final vote.
The vote capped a day of extraordinary scenes inside the Capitol. Some of the largest crowds in recent memory filled the halls, with activists filling every corner and stairway. Capitol security brought in dozens of extra officers to maintain order and roped off many areas that are usually open in an effort to clear a way for legislators to move freely in the building.
As he has for seven years, gay activist Doug Benson stood quietly outside the House chamber, his two iPads flashing, “Marriage Equality. This Year.” Opponents read Bible verses and sang hymns.
Several House members were brought to the point of tears during the debate.
“Justice is knocking,” said state Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, who voted yes. “How often does justice come knocking? Until we open the door.”
Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, wiped her eyes after voting no. “My heart breaks for Minnesota,” she said.
Opponents say their last hope is to convince senators that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, ordained by God and not subject to change.
The vote comes just six months after Minnesota voters defeated a proposal to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. The sharp divisions remaining within the state were evident in a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll two months ago that showed a majority of Minnesotans still opposed to lifting the legal ban on gay marriage.
“History will determine whether this was the right move, but one thing I think we really know is that Minnesota is divided over the issue,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said moments before the vote. “Hearts and minds may be changing, but Minnesota is still divided and now is not the time.”
With the margin expected to be only a couple votes, lobbying had been fierce. Proponents called Thissen’s office at the rate of one per minute. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, confident the Senate had the votes to pass the bill, had wanted the shakier House to act first. Dayton lobbied a closed-door meeting of House DFLers.
At one point, Chris Kluwe, the Minnesota Vikings punter recently cut from the team, personally lobbied Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, to vote for the bill. Garofalo ended up among the four Republicans who voted yes.
Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, said doing the right thing cannot wait, no matter how politically perilous.
Faust, a minister, said he searched for the courage for months “to vote for this bill when the majority of people in my district do not agree with this.”
Ultimately, Faust said, he did it for “the young man or woman that every day has to get up and go to school knowing that they are going to be picked on, knowing they are going to be called names. Knowing there is a good chance they might get beat up because they are who God made them to be — children of God, brothers and sisters of ours, and yet they do not have the same rights that we do.”
Same-sex marriage opponents renewed their calls to leave marriage alone.
Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said he fears that schools eventually will be forced to teach students about homosexuality in sex education classes, normalizing what he considers deviant behavior.
“Think about what’s best for the children,” Gruenhagen said. “Please vote for the children.”
Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, said the measure stigmatizes Minnesotans who oppose same-sex marriage.
“We are classifying half of Minnesotans as bigots in this bill — and they are not,” he said.
Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said he was raised by a mother and a father and continues to believe that is best for children. “I am not a homophobe or a Neanderthal or a hater,” he said.
The vote could have career-ending consequences for some members who defied majority opinion within their districts.
Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, looked exhausted but upbeat as he cast a vote in favor of same-sex marriage that could put him at odds with his conservative district.
“I don’t think I’m going to lose my seat,” the first-termer said. “It’s an emotional day. We all hold these beliefs deep in our hearts, and I think we heard a great conversation today.”
Two DFLers from rural areas voted against same-sex marriage: Reps. Patti Fritz of Faribault and Mary Sawatzky of Willmar.
Minnesotans United for All Families, the lead group pressing for same-sex marriage, spent weeks reaching out to Republicans in hopes of winning strong bipartisan support. Only one Republican — Sen. Branden Petersen of Andover — had announced his support for legalizing same-sex marriage.
Freshman Rep. David FitzSimmons, R-Albertville, proposed a last-minute change to add “civil” to the state’s marriage laws. The change, which was adopted, is intended to draw a line between civil and religious marriage ceremonies.
After staying silent on the issue for weeks, a sometimes teary FitzSimmons then voted for the measure, as did Republican Reps. Jenifer Loon of Eden Prairie and Andrea Kieffer of Woodbury.
FitzSimmons said that once he saw the outcome as inevitable, he started working with same-sex marriage supporters to craft the law to ensure religious protections.
“The people I was thinking about are the people who attend churches in my district, and it’s incredibly important that they are able to keep their freedom while others do what they think is their freedom,” FitzSimmons said after the vote.
Garofalo said he never would have voted for the marriage measure without the protections afforded by the FitzSimmons amendment. “For me, I am Catholic, and it is a very personal issue for me,” Garofalo said.
Nationally, hundreds of prominent Republicans have broken with their party on the issue and announced their support for same-sex marriage.
Brian McClung, once a spokesman for Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, recently announced his support for same-sex marriage.
By the middle of the day, gay and lesbian advocates were packing the Capitol, wearing orange-and-blue “Support Marriage” stickers and shirts.
On the other side, Minnesota for Marriage ran shuttles ferrying activists back and forth to the Capitol from the Cathedral of St. Paul and Living Word Church. They wore Minnesota for Marriage blue and green.
At the North Star, the state’s iconic emblem of etched glass in the center of the Capitol, Lena Buggs and Jim Brunsgaard faced off.
Buggs, 42, of St. Paul, and Brunsgaard, 56, of Hastings, took opposite positions in the competitive chanting and singing that rose from the first floor.
“Peace and love!” chanted Buggs, a lesbian and supporter of the bill, standing at the velvet rope that rings the emblem.
“No! Vote no!” chanted Brunsgaard, a committed Christian who fell to his knees across the star from Buggs and shouted “No!” at every opportunity. People on his side of the debate formed a line and sang “Amazing Grace.”
After the vote, victorious same-sex marriage supporters spilled into the Capitol rotunda for a celebratory rally.
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” supporters chanted gleefully outside the House chambers. As legislators walked out, they were greeted with the sort of earsplitting roars usually reserved for rock stars.
Before the House vote, Dayton, who campaigned heavily against November’s proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, summed up the mood of many inside the Capitol.
“This is one of those society-changing, breakthrough moments,” Dayton said.
Should the bill pass the Senate, Dayton would sign it in a public ceremony and the new law would take effect Aug. 1.