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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My Voice Nation Help

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.