Gay marriage has votes to clear Minnesota House committee

Published 9:39 am Friday, March 8, 2013

ST. PAUL — A bill to make gay marriage legal in Minnesota has the votes to clear one of its first major legislative hurdles, despite loud protests from opponents at a rally Thursday at the Capitol.

Hundreds of gay marriage opponents crowded the Capitol’s rotunda, trying to slow momentum on the effort to repeal the state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. “We believe it’s a perversion of God’s best intentions for his people,” said Carolyn Alm, a demonstrator from Chisago City.

But the bill already was headed for a key boost in the House Civil Law Committee: Nine of 17 members on that committee told The Associated Press they would vote for the bill, enough to send it on to the full House.

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Both House Civil Law and the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled hearings next Tuesday on the bill, and its success in Senate Judiciary looks nearly as likely. Four of eight members told the AP they’d vote yes; a fifth, DFL Sen. Barb Goodwin, said she supports gay marriage but is uncomfortable moving so quickly to legalize it in Minnesota. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Scott Dibble, said he was confident of winning over Goodwin.

All the confirmed yes votes in both committees come from Democrats, who hold the House and Senate majorities. So far, only one Republican lawmaker out of 89 has committed to supporting the bill.

“I never pretended I would do anything but support it,” said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester. “It’s just the right thing to do and I can’t even imagine voting another way.”

Both the House and Senate chairmen said the next stop after their committees would be the House and Senate floors. Dibble said those votes would probably not come for at least a few more weeks, as the bill’s supporters and lobbyists hired by gay marriage backers look to assemble the 68 House votes and 34 Senate votes needed for passage. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would sign the bill.

Of the nine confirmed yes votes in the House Civil Law Committee, only Liebling hails from a district not in Minneapolis, St. Paul or its suburbs.

“I said on my website as a candidate that I support the freedom to marry for gay couples,” said freshman Rep. Barb Yarusso, DFL-Shoreview, who represents suburbs north of St. Paul. “I think it promotes stable families and communities in the same way that heterosexual marriage does.”

The toughest challenge for the bill’s supporters is likely to be nailing down votes from Democrats with large rural constituencies. A Star Tribune poll published Wednesday found much stronger support for legalizing gay marriage in the Twin Cities than in more rural parts of the state.

“We’ve got to maintain strong numbers with Republicans and get enough Democrats to help defeat it,” said Brian Brown, president of the Washington-based National Organization for Marriage, who spoke at the rally. That group fights against the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the U.S. and has pledged money to defeat any Minnesota Republican lawmakers who support the gay marriage bill.

While the bill is assured passage in the House committee, Brown said he thought gay marriage opponents had a better chance of killing it in the full House as opposed to the full Senate.

Of the Civil Law Committee’s 10 DFL members, only Rep. Paul Rosenthal of Edina was not a definite yes. He said he didn’t want to commit because he hadn’t read the bill.

Senate Judiciary Democrats also hail from the Twin Cities, except Sen. Kathy Sheran of Mankato. She said she views gay marriage as inevitable after the defeat of last fall’s constitutional amendment to ban it.

“That door was opened and we can’t close it now,” Sheran said. “Now’s the time to say where we’re at on the deal. Some people might want a longer conversation, but it’s too late now to go back.”