MARSHALL - Same-sex marriage in Minnesota got one step closer to becoming a reality Thursday when the Minnesota House, after more than three hours of debate, voted 75-59 to let same-sex couples marry. Step 2 comes Monday when the Senate is expected to vote on the measure - the final hurdle to Minnesota becoming the 12th state in the country to allow gay couples to wed.
In Minnesota, supporters of an issue that has polarized the U.S. have expressed confidence they will, indeed, have the votes in the Senate to back same-sex marriage legislation. That was proven in the DFL-controlled House on Thursday and could be again Monday when the Senate is scheduled to start its debate on same-sex marriage at noon Monday.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has said he will sign the bill, which would allow gay marriages to start happening on Aug. 1. Dayton, who could sign the bill as soon as Tuesday if it's approved by the Senate, has called the progress of the bill "one of those society-changing breakthrough moments."
Four of the House's 61 Republicans voted for the bill, while two of the 73 Democrats voted no. None of the four Republicans committed support beforehand.
The two House Democrats who voted no, Patti Fritz of Faribault and Mary Sawatzky of Willmar, represent largely rural districts where the gay marriage ban was backed by a majority of voters, the Associated Press said. But most of the Democrats from rural, more socially conservative districts voted for the bill.
Southwest Minnesota Republican House representatives each voted no on the bill Thursday, while Democrat Andrew Falk of District 17A, voted in support of it.
"Whether you agree with the outcome or not, this was a historical moment," said District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton. "We live in a country were you can openly express your views and influence legislation. When I look back on the debate we had, it confirms how honored I am to serve in the Minnesota House of Representatives and how proud I am to be an American."
District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms said Friday he will vote against the bill.
"As far as my constituents, there's a major push to not support this," said Dahms, R-Redwood Falls.
Dahms said this is an issue where his background, how he was brought up and what his beliefs are all played a factor in how he formed his decision on how to vote. But he also said his beliefs are in line with the majority of voters from District 16 who supported banning same-sex marriage in November.
"My thought process matches up with 67 percent of my district who voted for the amendment on the ballot," he said.
District 17 Democratic Sen. Lyle Koenen of Clara City said Friday he will vote against the same-sex marriage bill Monday. He more than likely will be one of the few Democrats to vote against the bill.
"It is a personal issue, but it's also about the district your represent," he said. "I know the majority of the people in the district would be opposed to this."
Koenen said many people, both the general public and legislators, have strong feelings about same-sex marriage but that the DFL caucus has never taken an official position on the issue.
Republican Sen. Bill Weber of Luverne said he will also vote against the bill.
"Seventy-two-and-a-half percent of the voters in my district voted for the marriage amendment, so my views coincide with 72-and-a-half percent," Weber said. "It's not a hard decision for me whatsoever. There are those who have their personal views one way and their constituents think another, so it is quite a quandary for them. Each have to deal with it in their own way."
If it passes, Minnesota would become the first Midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriages through legislative votes. The votes come just six months after the state's voters rejected banning gay marriage in the state constitution. Eleven other states allow gay marriages - including Rhode Island and Delaware, which approved laws in the past week.
Iowa allows gay marriages because of a 2009 court ruling. Leaders in Illinois - the only Midwestern state other than Minnesota with a Democratic-led statehouse - say that state is close to having the votes to approve a law, too, the Associated Press reported.
An amendment to the bill submitted Wednesday from Republican Rep. David FitzSimmons put in the term "civil marriages" in all instances whether couples are of the same or different genders, a change that was supported by Minnesotans United, the lobby group pushing for gay marriage. It's meant to guarantee that religious organizations couldn't be fined, punished or stripped of special status for refusing to perform gay marriages.
Dahms said from what he's hearing at the Capitol, supporters of the bill will have enough votes to pass it.