When will gay marriage be legal in Minnesota?

After 42 years, the same-sex marriage debate in Minnesota might finally come to a close

When will gay marriage be legal in Minnesota?
Ulana Zahajkewycz

UPDATE: Governor Mark Dayton signed same-sex marriage into law on May 14, 2014. The first same-sex couples to legally wed in Minnesota celebrated their unions at Minneapolis City Hall at midnight on August 1, 2013, with then- Mayor R.T. Rybak officiating the wedding for Cathy ten Broeke and Margaret Miles before dozens more couples joined together throughout the night.

Three weeks after the election, John Marty is moving. A slight, silver-haired senator from Roseville, Marty was cast out of his Capitol office in 2010, along with his DFL brethren, when the Republicans took control of the Legislature. Asked if it's nice to be back, Marty shrugs it off as a mere formality, save for the picturesque view of St. Paul.

"I spend a lot of time gazing out the window," he says with a smirk, as his staff files in with more boxes.

Sen. John Marty plans to introduce a bill to legalize gay marriage this session
B FRESH Photography
Sen. John Marty plans to introduce a bill to legalize gay marriage this session
After a long election night, MN United celebrates the amendment's defeat
© 2012 by Anna Min of Min Enterprises Photography LLC
After a long election night, MN United celebrates the amendment's defeat

Marty produces an artifact excavated during the move: a double-sided sign from the GOP's early-2000s push for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, led by then-state Sen. Michele Bachmann. In its original form, the sign featured images of a man and a woman, ordered to say: "Man + Woman = Marriage." But Marty changed the math by cutting out one of the figures with an Exacto knife and flipping it around. Now, on one side, it says, "Man + Man = Marriage" and on the other, "Woman + Woman = Marriage."

"Their proposal 10 years ago, the chant was, 'Let us vote, let us vote,'" he recalls. "My feeling is: Human rights is not something you put up to a vote."

Nine years later, on November 6, 2012, that vote finally took place. After a long and ugly campaign, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to vote down a referendum to ban gay marriage.

Now, as the legislative session approaches, Democrats face a difficult decision: What's next?

For Marty, who first introduced a bill to legalize gay marriage in 2008, the answer is simple.

"I'm dropping a marriage equality bill again," he says. "I think we've waited far too long, and saying we should wait longer is not okay."

In Minnesota, the debate over the legalization of same-sex marriage has been more than 42 years in the making.

The going has been slow and repetitive. This past election wasn't even the first to include a campaign with the slogan "Vote No." That also happened in 1992, when veteran St. Paul cop Bob Fletcher led a doomed push to repeal the gay-rights provision of St. Paul's human rights ordinance.

But through these long and arduous years, one thing has remained constant: Minnesota is moving toward equality.

Like Marty, many pro-gay-marriage politicians, activists, and voters believe this is the closest the planets have ever aligned for a push to legalize marriage equality. For the first time in more than two decades, the DFL controls the House, Senate, and governor's office. Possibly the largest grassroots campaign ever assembled in Minnesota — more than 27,000 volunteers who worked on the Minnesotans United for All Families campaign — is ready to move. And the night Minnesota voted down an amendment to ban gay marriage, three other states voted to legalize it, while Wisconsin elected the nation's first-ever openly gay U.S. senator.

"I think in this election cycle, we saw the shifting of tides," says Aaron Klemz, a liberal blogger who has assembled a petition with more than 4,400 signatures to legalize same-sex marriage. "Now is the moment where we might be able to push and see a change."

But as history has proven, the issue of gay rights is complicated in Minnesota. If DFL legislators try to repeal the state's version of the Defense of Marriage Act this session — which begins next week — they could very well be heading for disappointment, says Bill Hillsman, a political strategist who worked on one campaign against the amendment.

"They defeated the constitutional amendment, but they didn't defeat it by much, and it wasn't that easy," says Hillsman. "So to jump right from that to, 'Oh we've got this great momentum, let's try to pass a law' — I don't know if that's the reality."

The problem comes down to simple math. Though the constitutional amendment lost by 5 percent in November, the overwhelming majority of "no" votes came from the metro area. Of Minnesota's 87 counties, 75 actually came out in favor of the amendment.

Now DFL legislators from rural districts are put in a compromising position. If they vote for a controversial law that the majority of their constituents oppose, they could be vulnerable come next election, which is quickly approaching for House members.

"I think people are wanting to move forward, but realistically, the votes probably aren't there," says Rep. Susan Allen, DFL-Minneapolis, who is openly gay.

In talks since the election, there have been mixed feelings among DFL legislators on how to proceed, says Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.

"It's fair to say that there are different points of view," says Dibble, also openly gay. "Some think 2013 is best — let's go ahead and do this and show that Minnesota won't fall off the face of the planet as a result."

Others fear that pushing the hot-button social issue will be perceived as a distraction by the public. Heading into the session, Minnesota faces a projected $1.1 billion budget deficit that must be balanced by the end of the spring, or the state will fall into yet another government shutdown, which could have grim political repercussions for Democrats. And even if the majority of the session is spent on fiscal matters, passing gay marriage would inevitably be a grueling process.

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It will be legal when people run out of ropes and trees to hang homosexuals from.  I was gay bashing long before they called it that.  Oh, and I hate the term 'homophobic'.  Its not accurate.  Having a phobia implies fear.  Fear of water, fear of spinders, etc.  I do not fear homosexuals.  I just hate them.  Straight up, 100% pure hate.  Just like I hate cats and vegatables.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone topcommenter

I would add something to your story and your timeline charting the support and opposition sides of gay rights.

On June 5, 1979 Terry Knudsen was beaten in Loring Park for being gay, part of a larger pattern of assaults on gay victims, six in one week, in Loring Park.  To quote from the Queer Twin Cities GLBT Oral History project (p.68-9). It goes on to note that another gay man, Les Benscotter, was found nude and strangled, beaten and maimed in his apartment, next to a bookcase with the words scrawled on it "Fag will die". Other attacks over the next decade claim more than 40 deaths that were sexual orientation motivated or related.

I don't think you can look at the political activity without the larger context of hate crime motivated violence.  I don't believe you can look at the context for action in 2013-14, without looking not only at the mainstream opposition of conservatives, but also at the hate groups that have been identified in Minnesota - and we have more of them than are found in the surrounding states, if you accept the list of those identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Minnesota has 12, with the surrounding 5 states in the single digits - the Dakotas have 3 each, Iowa has 4, Nebraska has 7, and Wisconsin has 8.

Of the dozen identified hate groups in MN, two are specifically anti-gay; and the remainder are militant or radical Christian groups (although I would argue that the anti-gay designated groups are as well), with a few skin heads and neo-nazis thrown in, and one lone black separatist group.  I don't know if this means the same hatred that was expressed violently in the 70s and 80s has become more organized, or if it just indicates a different way of identifying it. But the whole spectrum of the social opposition and support should be looked at as the context for action now.

I would also argue that where the tea party conservatives who were elected in 2010 showed an excessive arrogance in their waging of culture wars instead of tending to more appropriate and necessary area of government.  The hubris of the right wing over-reach in trying to force a minority extreme viewpoint, voted in by low voter turnout in 2010, on the majority of Minnesotans was a large part of their defeat in 2012.  I would hope that the Democrats would use their majority more wisely to form a genuine consensus and majority support for gay marriage.  There are many arguments for it, including economic ones. That those who oppose it can be persuaded was demonstrated by the voting down of the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment; persuasion worked, and it should continue to work to make passing gay marriage the will of a majority of Minnesotans - as I believe it can and will be. Approach it through a majority tyranny that ignores the opposition, and we could lose the hard won advantage gained in 2012.

More than that, any vote on legislation before the SCOTUS ruling would be foolish; if that goes in favor of gay marriage, which I think is likely, we may not have to pass any legislation at all, or at most repeal or amend the existing legislation that limits marriage to one man and one woman, to read between two adults capable of legal consent, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

An amendment to change that legislation might be easier than new legislation that includes repeal of earlier law.


Minnesota's talented legislators can both walk and chew gum. There is enough time to deal with pressing budgetary/economic issues facing the state and for constructive dialogue about allowing all committed Minnesota couples the freedom to marry.


@JohnnySwift Your summary of the tea party position is quite accurate and to the point. You should work for Fox news. Too bad you are too chicken to write under your own name.


@Dog Gone homosexuals deserve to be killed.  just like what the Bible says.  Stone them or burn them.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone topcommenter

@JohnnySwift @Dog Gone 

You might want to be careful of what you choose to accept as an authority.  It also says that if you masturbate you should die -- and that it is even possible God will kill you directly himself.  Are you familiar with what happened when "Onan spilled his seed on the ground"? If God doesn't make that a personal killing of you, that's another stoning offense.

Have YOU ever masturbated, Johnny Swift?  Should we stone you? 

How about that bit in the Bible about selling people, including one's own wife, and children, into slavery, including sexual slavery? No?

Then you might want to turn away from those old testament pages, and look at the New Testament where Jesus says absolutely nothing about punishing or killing homosexuals.

You might want to take a look at the part in John 8:7, about he who is without sin casting the first stone.  Or go sit in a corner, slap yourself for being stupid and bigoted, and then play with your own 'stones', rocks, nuts......whatever vulgar slang euphemism appeals to you while you drool stupidly.

 Before our civil war, the Bible was used by slave owners to justify treating people as property.  That is just one very good reason to reject the Bible as the basis for any law making; it has a lot of absolutely terrible crap in it along with the good stuff.

 I reject slavery, especially sexual slavery of children, and the rejection of sea food, blended fabrics, homophobia, and a lot of other things in the Bible that even modern Christianity and Judaism rejects. Add attitudes towards homosexuality to that list of really wrong things in the Bible.