By Don Davis
Gay Minnesotans and their supporters streamed into the Minnesota Capitol today expecting to witness history.
They sang “America” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and celebrated, anticipating senators to approve gay marriage this afternoon.
Handfuls of same-sex marriage opponents kneeled in prayer at various spots around the Capitol.
There was little doubt under the massive marble dome that senators would join state representatives who Thursday approved a bill overturning an existing law banning same-sex marriages. When that vote happens, the bill only needs Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature to become law, an action expected on Tuesday in an extravaganza planned for the Capitol.
Even gay marriage opponents admit the bill would pass today, making Minnesota the 12th state to allow same-sex couples to wed. Still, opponents are expected to argue against the concept during Senate debate, set to begin at noon.
Thursday’s House debate, before the bill passed 75-59, was quiet and civil. Most representatives in the Democrat-controlled body remained in their seats for the entire three-hour debate and appeared to be thoughtfully listening to each speaker.
There was less emotion Thursday than two years ago when the then-Republican controlled House passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have enshrined the gay marriage ban already in law in the state Constitution.
Minutes after that May 2011 vote, same-sex marriage backers pledged to launch a vigorous statewide campaign against the amendment. That 18-month campaign resulted in Minnesota being the first state to deal the first major setback to gay marriage opponents in recent years when Minnesotans voted 52 percent to 47 percent to keep the ban out of the Constitution.
For years, polls constantly had shown Minnesotans opposed to gay marriage. However, Minnesotans’ attitude appears to be changing.
Late Last month, a SurveyUSA-KSTP poll showed 51 percent wanted the same-sex marriage ban to be dumped, with 47 percent saying it should remain as is.
Other polls have shown similar results.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, admitted things are changing on the issue when he spoke during Thursday’s debate. Even so, he said, this is not the time to make the change.
Four House Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the bill, while two Democrats voted against it with most GOP members.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said since his district is very opposed to gay marriage, he feels he must speak against it today.
“The voters of northwestern and west central Minnesota made it very clear they do not support gay marriage,” Ingebrigtsen said.
In a newsletter he sent out last week, Ingebrigtsen urged voters in those areas to call their legislators and ask them to vote against the bill.
However, House members he wanted voters to contact — Paul Marquart of Dilworth, Ben lien of Moorhead, Roger Erickson of Baudette and Jay McNamar of Elbow Lake — all voted for gay marriage.
Leading the Senate charge in today’s gay marriage debate, as he has for years, will be openly gay Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.
“I’m confident we’ll have bipartisan support to win this historic vote,” Dibble wrote to supporters Sunday. “Tonight and tomorrow, my colleagues need to know that you are not only with them now, but that you’ll stick with them after we vote for the freedom to marry.”
He and his partner Richard Leyva, who were married in California, met a cheering crowd on the Capitol steps and the senator was greeted with hand shakes and hugs as he made his away through the Capitol.
There is a fear among some Democrats, especially those in rural areas where gay marriage enjoys its least acceptance, that lawmakers who vote in favor of the bill will suffer the consequences at the polls.
The gay marriage debate will be shown on the Minnesota Channel on public television stations across the state and at tinyurl.com/SenateTV on the Web.