By Don Davis
Minnesota Legislature votes on a proposal to legalize gay marriage are drawing near after a Monday night committee action handed the bill to the full House.
The House Ways and Means Committee decided on a divided voice vote to move the bill along to what could be a historic vote this week. There was no debate during a 10-minute meeting.
A Senate committee is expected to vote on a similar measure Tuesday morning, opening the way to a full Senate vote. Gov. Mark Dayton says he will sign the bill.
Legislative leaders have not announced when they would hold votes. House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he will not bring it up unless he knows he has the votes to pass it.
Minnesota would become the 12th state to allow same-sex marriage if the House and Senate pass the bill before they adjourn on May 20.
The Monday night vote came as gay marriage opponents cranked up their rhetoric and a key lawmaker announced he will support same-sex marriage.
Minnesota for Marriage, leading the anti-gay marriage movement, imported New Yorkers to relate their experiences since that state approved same-sex marriage two years ago.
“We have to choose between religious beliefs … and our income,” farmer Cynthia Gifford said.
Gifford and her husband, Robert, joined dozens to tell reporters about problems they see with overturning a Minnesota law that bans same-sex marriages. A town clerk and a former clerk said that issuing marriage licenses to gay couples would be against their religion.
The Giffords own a 100-acre farm near Schaghticoke, N.Y., and often host weddings. They refused to allow a wedding between two lesbians and were the subject of a human rights complaint.
One of Minnesota’s rural Democrats who many thought could vote either way announced he will support gay marriage.
“This issue is very, very important to me as a pastor and a Christian,” Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, said. “Under this bill, if a church wishes to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony, they will have the religious freedom to do so. This bill will not force churches to perform same-sex marriages.”
The Rev. Jason McGuire, leader of New York’s major anti-gay marriage organization, said it “is a big lie” that church-related organizations would not be affected. He and other gay marriage opponents told reporters Monday that many religious groups could be forced to accept gays even if it violates their beliefs.
Faust said the law would not allow a situation like the Giffords face. “It won’t force private businesses to be involved in same-sex marriages. It simply allows freedom of religion for all religious institutions across Minnesota.”
The House Ways and Means Committee Monday night learned that the latest estimate of the state’s cost is more than $1.3 million in the $38 billion, two-year budget lawmakers are considering. Most of the money would be spent on adding health insurance for 114 state workers’ gay spouses.
No new money would be appropriated to cover the added expense; agencies would be required to cover the cost.
At the same time, the state would collect about $200,000 more in that time because more marriage licenses would be sold.
The issue follows last November’s failure of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
While the amendment failed, state law still bans gay marriage. The bill would overturn that ban.
Teresa Collett, a St. Thomas University law professor, said that harassment and legal cases have occurred in every state that has legalized gay marriage.
McGuire said the complaint against the Giffords is the only major legal action coming out of the New York gay marriage law.
He said that as Minnesota lawmakers take sides in the debate, they need to realize “there also is a political price to pay.” Some of those coming out in support of the gay marriage bill represent districts that oppose the concept, he said.