Senators ‘vote Yes For Love’

Sign of the times

By Don Davis

Love and marriage soon will go together for Minnesota gays like they do for straight couples.

“Vote yes for love,” Minnesota Sen. Scott Dibble told his colleagues Monday.

Enough senators agreed and gave the Minneapolis Democrat his wish of a Minnesota that allows same-sex couples to marry, the 12th state to allow it.

“Today we have the power, the awesome humbling power, to make dreams come true.” Dibble said as a four-hour, three-minute debate wound down.

Senators voted 37-30 to remove a state law that bans same-sex marriage. The vote followed a Thursday 75-59 House vote, leaving Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature today the only step remaining before gays can marry starting Aug. 1.

Dayton plans to sign the bill at 5 p.m. today on the front steps of the state Capitol, where large crowds gathered Thursday and Monday, mostly supporting gay marriage.

After today’s signing ceremony, downtown St. Paul will host an outdoor Freedom to Marry concert.

Monday’s debate was civil and quiet, but still energetic, as Republican after Republican denounced gay marriage or tried to make the bill more palatable. Democrats, meanwhile, compared the historic debate to civil rights efforts of the 1960s.

Republicans argued that God opposes gay marriage, but Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, turned the tables on them.

“God made gays and God made gays capable of loving people,” Latz said. “Who are we to quarrel with God’s intentions?”

The two sides of the debate agreed on the importance of the Dibble bill.

“This is a once-in-a-generation kind of a bill,” Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said. “Pro or con, it doesn’t matter.”

“I can’t think of another vote that I have taken that will impact so many people,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, added.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said he is concerned for his grandchildren. “There are going to be some questions about family and family traditions.”

While Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said that once the bill passes “it will be OK,” but Ingebrigtsen wondered if it would.

“I am not quite so sure everything is going to be OK,” said Ingebrigtsen, who said his area is firmly against gay marriage. “That is why I ask members to recognize the core of traditional marriage that we have had for thousands of years.”

Dibble, who married his partner Richard Leyva in California in 2008, said that allowing gays to marry would make for stronger communities and state.

“It is a very simple bill, but sometimes the simplest bills are the most powerful in affecting people,” Dibble said.

Moments after the vote, Dibble, Leyva, House bill sponsor Rep. Karen Clark of Minneapolis and other Democrats received a rousing welcome by the 2,800 people who jammed into the Capitol. Most of the people were gay-rights supporters, although a few opponents were on hand, mostly to pray.

Throughout the debate in the stately Senate chamber, the crowd’s songs — including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Give Love a Chance” and “America” — filtered through the chamber’s massive doors. Loud cheers could be heard from visitors watching television feeds of the debate after supporters spoke.

Senators were quiet during the debate as about 75 House members and Senate staffers lined the walls to watch history being made.

Among provisions Dibble emphasized in his bill are those that protect clergy and religious organizations. He said clergy would not be required to marry same-sex couples and his bill would not affect religious organizations’ dealings with gay weddings.

Dibble said state law already only deals with civil marriage, but that his bill adds “civil” before “marriage” in state law to give those concerned about it affecting religious organizations more comfort.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said the bill does not go far enough to protect people who have “a contrary opinion.” He said all religious organizations would not be protected and no business would be protected.

Dibble said that other than the gay-wedding provisions, there will be no changes in state law that already makes it illegal to discriminate against gays. “What is true today will be true tomorrow.”

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, offered an amendment, which failed, that would have extended protections to allow more religious groups opposed to same-sex marriage to decide whether to serve gays.

“It is about living your faith, seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Gazelka said, such as not forcing church-related colleges or private businesses to deal with gay weddings.

Gazelka and Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, offered the only two proposed amendments Monday. Both failed with most Democrats and a handful of Republicans voting against them.

The Westrom amendment would have kept “mother, father, husband, wife” in various places of state law.

“We would continue to use the same terms we have forever,” Westrom said.

Limmer, who authored a bill two years ago to put a gay marriage ban in the state Constitution, said that senators came into the debate “without clear consensus from our community.”

On the bill’s final vote, three rural Democrats joined all but one Republican in voting against the bill: Sens. LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer, Lyle Koenen of Clara City and Dan Sparks of Austin.

Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said that he was happy to walk up the Capitol’s front steps en route to the debate.

“Today is one of those days, those rare days where we can make a real and recognizable difference in people’s lives…” he said. “At the core of the debate today is love.”

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said his constituents are not all on the same side on the issue, but he voted for the bill.

Reinert, one of the few single senators, said he wants to give everyone the same right he has, the chance to marry.

“I vote today to give something that is not really mine to give,” he said. “As I search my core beliefs and convictions, I find that I want those for everyone.”

Bakk relayed a story about a counselor his father hired at the Lutheran church camp he ran when the senator was a child.

The senator said that “Ray was there” during happy and sad times in the Bakk family.

“Ray knows a lot about marriage,” Bakk said of the counselor-turned-minister. “He has married a lot of couples.”

Bakk and his wife are one of those couples, a few years before Ray came out as gay.

“He participated and shared in the joy of so many marriages, but he could never have one of his own,” Bakk said.

He said his vote in favor of the Dibble bill reflected what he learned growing up in Bible camp: tolerance, diversity, the golden rule.

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove who recently had her third child, said she wants to tell the state’s children: “No matter who they fall in love with some day, the people of Minnesota will treat them with respect.”

And, Sieben added to children, “today we vote to affirm that we respect you and we want to have a more fair and more equal Minnesota.”

Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, said she voted for the bill because it is about fairness, equality, rights and justice.

“It is for loving, committed couples who need the protection that marriage provides so they can visit their partner in the hospital and their children have legal and emotional security,” Kent said. “We need to ensure all couples have the same rights and recognitions under law without jeopardizing religious liberty.”

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said he received about 1,000 emails asking him to vote against the bill.

“I voted no on this issue for a simple reason: I have a core value belief that marriage is a sacrosanct institution which for numerous millennia have been reserved exclusively for a relationship between a man and a woman,” Newman said. “Ultimately, this bill forever changes the makeup of a family unit, the way public schools will educate our children and exposes those who do not believe in same sex marriage with liability for failure to conform with the mandates of this newly created institution.”

Westrom agreed with others that it was a big day.

“I hope we all know how significant this day could be if this bill passes,” Westrom said. “I think there are a lot of unintended consequences.”

Westrom wondered what would happen in schools, hinting that it will be required that teachers support gay marriage in the classroom.

“I think this is a wrong step in history, a step we should not be going down,” Westrom said.

He said the bill would eliminate “this long standing tradition that our state has recognized since creation that children need a dad and a mom, a male and a female.”

Senate gallery celebration