By Kathleen Osborn
The roar of the crowd packed into the rotunda of the Minnesota state Senate could be heard periodically throughout the 4-hour-plus debate over marriage equality yesterday. After impassioned speeches from both sides of the aisle, the state Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage 37 to 30, with fragile bi-partisan support.
Governor Mark Dayton signing the bill into law today makes Minnesota the first Midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage by legislative vote. It also makes Minnesota the 12th state in the nation to embrace marriage equality – the third state to do so just this month. Minnesotans will have a lot to celebrate at the parade set to follow the bill signing on the Capitol steps.
It was just this fall that the people of Minnesota voted down a ballot initiative that called for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage – making the state the first to fully reject such a measure. On that same night Democrats took back the state government in Minnesota. Despite the numbers, some state leaders were wary at the beginning of the year that same-sex marriage could win out. Recent reporting from the Star Tribune attributed some of the turnaround on marriage equality to another hot button social issue: guns.
This week, the Star Tribune wrote that tough gun control legislation being proposed by state Democrats was “muddying” the waters for same-sex marriage.
Democrats fought bitterly among themselves for weeks, divided over the two explosive issues, guns and gay marriage.
With his caucus seemingly deadlocked on both issues, DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen made a surprise announcement.
He declared the gun issue dead for the year, a rarity in an institution where nothing is considered dead until the session is over.
Once the gun issue went away, he said, shaky rural members had time to reconsider the same-sex marriage issue and their place in history.
Ultimately, most of them — including the NRA’s highest-rated DFL members — voted for same-sex marriage, adding the crucial margin that solidified the bill’s passage.
In making calls about the link between same-sex marriage and guns in the state, legislative leaders maintained that both issues were dealt with separately and suggested that if the issues were linked at all it was only in the personal calculations of certain lawmakers. Currently, there is a gun control measure that is still being considered in the state senate, though only a week remains in this year’s legislative session.
After the jump: The long history of the fight for same-sex marriage in Minnesota…
Many attribute yesterday’s victory for marriage equality to Minnesota’s particular political history with the issue. All of the momentum of late in favor of marriage equality has made it is easy to forget the much longer history this effort has sustained. Arguably, Minnesota was the birth place of the fight for same-sex marriage.
In 1970, gay-activists Jack Baker and Michael McConnell applied for a marriage license in Minneapolis and were denied. It was one of the first challenges of its kind in the country and it made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1972, SCOTUS upheld the Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling that marriage is “a union of man and woman, uniquely involving the procreation and rearing of children within a family.”
Four years later Minnesota broke new ground again. A college professor turned freshman state senator, Allan Spear, came out on the front pages of the Minneapolis Star, becoming one of the very first out LGBTQ elected officials in the country. He went on to lead the charge against discrimination in all forms, passing Minnesota’s landmark Human Rights Act in 1993.
Though former state Senator Allan Spear passed away in 2008, he was remembered this week by the man who took his seat when Spear retired. State Senator Scott Dibble, also an out member of the legislature, authored the Senate version of the state’s same-sex marriage bill. Dibble made special mention of Spear in his remarks yesterday and wore a vintage pin from Sen. Allan Spear’s 1974 campaign.
The law is set to take effect August 1st and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak says he will be on hand at City Hall to officiate the very minute couples can legally wed: