Gov. Dayton signs same-sex marriage bill into law

Gov. Mark Dayton signs the same-sex marriage bill into law on the steps of the state Capitol. Credit: Submitted photo

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the same-sex marriage bill into law shortly after 5 p.m. today on the steps of the state Capitol surrounded by thousands of supporters of the legislation.

The public ceremony comes one day after the Minnesota Senate voted 37-30 in favor of the same-sex marriage bill. The legislation will go into effect Aug. 1.

“Unfortunately, our nation’s founding fathers had bold aspirations, but a bad implementation. They wrongly denied those equal rights and protections to women, African-Americans, and other racial minorities. They also left out GLBT men and women, if you believe, as I do, that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness certainly include the right to marry the person you love,” Dayton said. “Since then, our country’s most important progress has been to extend those equal rights and protections to everyone. That progress has often been difficult, controversial, and initially divisive. However, it has always been the next step ahead to fulfilling this country’s promise to every American. It is now my honor to sign into law this next step for the State of Minnesota to fulfill its promise to every Minnesotan.”

Minnesota is the 12th state in the nation to legalize gay marriage. The bill’s passage comes six months after Minnesota voters defeated a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would have banned same-sex marriage. The debate over allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry has been a deeply emotional and divisive issue in the state.

Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-61), author of the Senate bill whose district includes several neighborhoods in southwest Minneapolis, Loring Park and the Diamond Lake area, has been one of the most visible and outspoken champions of the crusade to allow same-sex couples to marry in the state. He married his husband Richard Leyva in California in 2008. 

He started out his speech on the Senate floor by quoting an excerpt of Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America be America again.” He also recognized the late Sen. Allan Spear, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country who long advocated for the rights of the GLBT community and was instrumental in passing the state’s Human Rights Act.

Two years ago, Dibble was in a much different place. The Senate, then controlled by Republicans, passed the ballot measure that asked voters to consider a constitutional ban on gay marriage. 

“I asked a question of this chamber two years ago — sitting up in front, holding up a photo of myself and Richard, with us today,” Dibble said. “I asked who was helped by the proposal that was then before the body. It was clear to me it helped no one and harmed many. Maybe this poem is a bit of a metaphor for what’s true today because that day I felt tremendous pain. I felt excluded. Friends I had in this chamber saw fit to cut me out from my own state’s constitution.”

Dibble went on to say in “an odd way” he was grateful the statewide conversation was launched about same-sex marriage. “I am proud to be a Minnesotan today. Today we have the power — the awesome, humbling power to make dreams come true.” 

He ended his speech with the following: “Vote yes for freedom, vote yes for family, for commitment, for responsibility, for dignity. Vote yes for love.” 

Another member of the Minneapolis delegation, Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-63), spoke in Spanish for a portion of her speech — addressing her relatives, some who do not share her support of same-sex marriage. Translated, she said: “I have to share that today my work is for justice.”

Torres Ray, a Catholic immigrant to the state, spoke about her lesbian neighbors and her hopes to attend a future wedding with them to celebrate their relationship. 

The vote largely split along party lines with only one Republican — Sen. Branden Petersen of Andover — voting yes.  The three DFLers who voted no were Lyle Koenen of Clara City, Dan Sparks of Austin and LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer. 

The Senate defeated two amendments to the bill before taking the final vote. Republican Sen. Paul Gazelka of Nisswa offered one amendment he said was designed to include more protections for people with religious objections to gay marriage. DFLers, however, criticized the amendment, saying it would instead open up the door for more discrimination.

Sen. Torrey Westrom, a Republican from Elbow Lake, proposed another amendment that would have kept gendered language in state law describing marriage between opposite sex marriages. 

One of the most outspoken opponents of same-sex marriage during the Senate debate was Sen. Dan Hall, a Republican from Burnsville. He said legalizing same-sex marriage “will weaken monogamy” and threaten religious liberty. 

“Some have said, ‘But don’t you want to be on the right side of history?’ The truth is I’m more concerned about being on the right side of eternity,” Hall said. 

The Minnesota House of Representatives approved the same-sex marriage bill on a 75-59 vote May 9. Led by Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-62A), the bill sponsor in the House, all 10 state representatives from Minneapolis voted for the bill.

While opponents of the bill called it a sad day for the state, GLBT and human rights groups across the country celebrated the news. 

“Minnesota is a perfect example of the progress we’ve made on marriage equality in America,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in a statement after the Senate vote. “Voters in Minnesota brought anti-equality efforts to a screeching halt on Election Day, and today state leaders in St. Paul made it clear that all Minnesota families are equal in the eyes of the law.”

City leaders also announced today that Minneapolis City Hall will open at 12:01 a.m. on Aug 1 for weddings, and Mayor R.T. Rybak will be available to serve as an officiant.