DFL leaders "won't pass a bill legalizing" gay marriage this session... or will they? [UPDATE]

Dayton speaks during yesterday's presser, flanked by DFL leaders Thissen (to Dayton's right) and Bakk (to Dayton's left).
Dayton speaks during yesterday's presser, flanked by DFL leaders Thissen (to Dayton's right) and Bakk (to Dayton's left).
Pioneer Press screengrab

Yesterday, Gov. Mark Dayton held a joint Capitol news conference with DFL and MNGOP legislative leaders.

-- Senate Majority Leader-elect Bakk responds dismissively to pro-marriage equality email
-- MNGOP Rep.-elect Cindy Pugh is worried about "An illiterate, disengaged and lazy electorate"

While the presser will be remembered in part for the "weird smile" incoming Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, wore on his face, another important revelation is that DFLers intend to focus on the state budget, not social issues, this legislative session.

As reported by MinnPost, here's Dayton's list of priorities this session:

No. 1: A tax reform bill.

No. 2: Job creation (presumably through another bonding bill that would start with civic projects in St. Cloud, Rochester and Mankato).

No.3: A start to restoring cuts that have been made to higher education.

No. 4: Funding for early childhood education.

House Speaker-designate Paul Thissen and Senate Majority Leader-elect Tom Bakk "seemed to mostly agree with the governor about priorities," MinnPost's Doug Grow reports.

It's no accident that gay marriage, a relaxation of marijuana laws, and other issues of a non-budgetary sort don't make Dayton's list (although some would argue legalizing marijuana could do wonders for the state budget). Since last month's election, the DFL leadership has repeatedly stressed that the state's "serious financial challenges" will be the legislature's focus this session, not divisive social issues.

With regard to relaxing marijuana laws, Bakk said yesterday he's supportive of a medical marijuana bill, but Dayton has indicated he won't go along unless it has the support of law enforcement officials, which seems like a long shot.

And though Dayton has said he'd sign a bill legalizing gay marriage, the DFL leadership signaled yesterday that they're content to wait on the U.S. Supreme Court. From the Pioneer Press:

The DFL legislative leaders hinted there may be a lot of talk but no action on legalizing same-sex marriages next session, which convenes Jan. 8. Thissen said the leaders "don't want to stop the conversation" on marriage prompted by the failed state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages.

But because the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear two cases challenging laws that define marriage as only the union of a man and a woman, he suggested lawmakers may wait until after the justices rule.

Lawmakers need more time to discuss the definition of marriage, Bakk said, but balancing the budget is a more pressing issue for now.

WCCO's Pat Kessler is more direct, reporting that "Democratic leaders say they expect to discuss and debate gay marriage, but won't pass a bill legalizing it in 2013."

In sum, Dayton advised those who hoped for bills relaxing marijuana laws, legalizing gay marriage, and introducing lots of new spending to temper their expectations.

"This is not going to be, as some fear and some hope, a sky's-the-limit approach," the governor said.

:::: UPDATE ::::

2:05 p.m. -- The DFL House Caucus' Zach Rodvold got in touch this afternoon to point out that WCCO's Pat Kessler backed off the strong language he used in yesterday's report.

As noted above, Kessler initially reported that "Democratic leaders say they expect to discuss and debate gay marriage, but won't pass a bill legalizing it in 2013." But later in the evening, Kessler added this:

Rodvold also passed along a transcript of the remarks House Speaker-designate Thissen made about the gay marriage issue during yesterday's presser. Here they are -- draw your own conclusions:

Thissen: On the marriage issue, I think that what we have said all along, I would continue to say. That what that amendment said is that people don't want to stop that discussion cold. They don't want to lock into our state constitution one definition of marriage. I think that the conversation is going to continue to evolve. There will be proposals, people have already announced there are going to be proposals that will be debated or at least introduced, so we'll have that discussion. I think what happened last week with the Supreme Court, taking up the issue of marriage, I don't know exactly what that means right now and what the implications of that will be as well. So I think there is a conversation that is going to continue and that we will absolutely continue to engage in that conversation.

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