When will gay marriage be legal in Minnesota?

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

In 2011, after taking control of the Legislature, Republicans introduced the bill again. In the final days of the contentious session, activists from both sides of the debate showed up in droves and stormed the Capitol. This time, the bill passed.

"It was a horrible night," recalls Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. "And yet the next morning, there was this great march that went from downtown to Loring Park. And I could feel people's emotion lifting throughout the whole walk, just thinking, 'Okay, we know how to win elections. Let's just win it.'"


November 6 was a night of uncertainty at the RiverCentre in St. Paul, where Minnesotans United for All Families held its election-night party. Early in the evening, when hundreds of supporters began filing in, spirits were high. People danced, cheered, and celebrated every Democratic win that rolled in from around the country. But by 1 a.m., Minnesota's gay marriage vote was still deadlocked, and it seemed everyone would go home without answers.

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

"You all should go to bed tonight feeling incredibly, incredibly proud of the work that you've done," said Minnesotans United Director Richard Carlbom to a private room full of volunteers and staff. "You've sparked a conversation in Minnesota that has already gotten 1.3 million people to vote no."

The room erupted with cheers and cat-calls.

"I expect we will not have a result before 2 a.m., so we will have to ask everybody to leave," Carlbom continued, and the crowd let out a collective sigh.

But before he could finish the speech, news came in that the Associated Press had called the race — and Vote No had won. Carlbom let out a shriek that set the room off into ecstasy.

"Tonight, Minnesota proved that love is bigger than government," Carlbom announced moments later to the packed auditorium.

After everyone filed out of the RiverCentre, Carlbom and about 20 others went back to their room at the St. Paul Hotel to celebrate with champagne and wine. Among them was Carlbom's fiance. The group stayed up all night celebrating, and Carlbom was back in front of news cameras by 5:30 a.m.

"It was amazing," says Carlbom. "A week later, we were still walking on cloud nine."

But Carlbom knew his work was not over. After the celebration ended, he was back on the phone, discussing the group's next step with other members of Minnesotans United. Meanwhile, groups Project 515 and Outfront Minnesota were having the same internal discussions. And after a couple of weeks, they had all come to the same conclusion: 2013 is the time to push for gay marriage.

"I think strategically, it's a good time because Minnesotans are in the midst of this conversation right now," says Carlbom. "If we wait, or if we delay it, that conversation over time will start to die down."

In late December, Minnesotans United announced that it would continue lobbying for marriage rights. But at the same time Carlbom made his announcement, Minnesota for Marriage — the primary group that supported the amendment — announced it would also be active this session in the fight to defend marriage as only between a man and woman.

Exactly how the fight will play out remains to be seen, but Carlbom says his group will utilize the troops rallied during the "Vote No" campaign. He's also in closed-door talks with legislators. Sen. Scott Dibble says if a bill does move through the Senate this year, he will be the key author.

But if gay marriage does become legal this year, Carlbom warns, the fight for equality in Minnesota still won't be over.

"Even once the change is made, the work is not done." 

Four Decades of Fighting

Legislators Spear, Clark, and Johnson

1970: A Hennepin County clerk denies Jack Baker and Mike McConnell a marriage license.

1971: State Supreme Court rules marriage is the union of a man and a woman in Baker Vs. Nelson, setting the first court precedent against same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

1973: Sen. Nicholas Coleman introduces bill to amend current human rights statute to include the term "homosexuals." It fails.

1974: Sen. Allan Spear becomes the first Minnesota legislator to come out publicly as gay.

1975: Coleman introduces new bill that would protect gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from discrimination in the workplace, but it's voted down after being amended to include transgender people; Minneapolis passes ordinance protecting "affectional preference."

1981: Spear and Rep. Karen Clark, also openly gay, reintroduce human rights bill, but it is voted down again.

1990: St. Paul passes its own human rights ordinance.

1992: A campaign led by veteran St. Paul cop Bob Fletcher tries to repeal the city's gay-rights provision; the effort fails by fewer than 5,000 votes.

1993: With help from Dean Johnson, then a Republican and the Senate minority leader, the Legislature passes the human rights bill.

1997: Minnesota Legislature passes its version of DOMA.

2001: Minnesota repeals sodomy law.

2004: Sen. Michele Bachmann introduces a bill for a ballot vote to constitutionally ban gay marriage after a Massachusetts judge rules gay marriage to be constitutional.

2006: Johnson, now turned DFL, loses election after 28 years in the Legislature after being targeted by Republicans.

2008: Allan Spear dies.

2011: Republican Legislature passes bill for a ballot referendum on amending the constitution to include ban on gay marriage.

2012: Minnesota becomes the first state in the nation to vote down a ballot initiative on gay marriage; Maine, Maryland, and Washington legalize gay marriage; Wisconsin elects first-ever openly gay U.S. senator.

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