BY TRAVIS GRIMLER
A bill in support of same-sex marriage passed in the state House of Representatives with a vote of 75-59 and the state Senate with a vote of 37-30. Gov. Mark Dayton was to sign the bill Tuesday, May 14, and the law would become effective in August.
Area legislators split their votes along party lines with District 10 Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point; District 9 Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Cass County; and District 9A Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore, voting against the bill. District 10A Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, and District 10B Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, voted in favor of the bill.
For supporters, the bill was a question of civil rights.
“For me, I felt that marriage equality is a civil rights issue, and the Declaration of Independence says that American citizens are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, including the right to life and the pursuit of happiness,” Radinovich said. “And my vote was a fulfillment of that promise.”
Ward said, “As a legislator I believe that breaking down walls of injustice and inequality is part of my job. One of my goals in my time in the Minnesota House has been to push for equality and social justice. I feel that is our responsibility.”
For detractors, it was a question of religious freedom. Supporters say the bill protects religious freedom by differentiating between religious marriage and civil marriage, which allows churches to turn down a union based on religious beliefs. Some say that’s not enough.
“Both sides are deeply entrenched in their value systems and you need to find a way to protect both,” Gazelka said. “Had it failed I would have said we need to provide more basic rights for homosexuals living in relationships. That’s kind of where we’re at, at this point, because religious liberties were not protected.”
“One of the things people are touting is that it gives religious protection, but it does not. It has less religious protection than even New York City. So it jeopardizes a lot of our institutions,” Ruud said. “Take, for instance, Catholic charities that deal with adoption, they receive public funding. If they don’t embrace the gay lifestyle they will lose their funding for adoptions. I think that’s very egregious and those are things that should have been well vetted in committee and discussed.”
Legislators say other groups that could be affected include florists, wedding photographers, wedding venues and family councilors. Ruud said the bill was not discussed sufficiently before the vote.
Ward and Radinovich each faces a recall petition because of their votes. Doug Kern of rural Brainerd filed a petition against Radinovich, and Kern and Tony Bauer of Nisswa initiated a recall petition against Ward. They contend Ward and Radinovich voted against the wishes of their constituents. The majority of District 10 voted in 2012 for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
“For me it was a decision between my own conscience and where I thought some of my constituents would be in this,” Radinovich said. “I know the amendment had a 62.5 percent yes vote last time, but if you believe this is an issue of rights like I do then it’s very difficult to justify to yourself how you could vote against that.”
Ward said, “While I understand the results of the vote on last year’s constitutional amendment, more constituents contacted me in support of marriage equality than those who were opposed. I also heard from people who had changed their mind on the issue from opposition to support, including an 88-year-old man and a small business owner.
“In my seven years in the Legislature, this is the most difficult issue I have ever voted on,” Ward said. “I thought, prayed long and hard, and listened to both sides before following my conscience and voting for freedom and equality.”
Ward also said he worked to ensure the bill included the strongest religious freedom protections of any state that has legalized same-sex marriage. The House adopted an amendment on the floor to ensure even greater protections for religious institutions.
Legislators said the bill was discussed respectfully before both the House and the Senate.
“I think one thing that really marked this for me about the way Minnesota did this was that there was a completely respectful conversation at least on the House and Senate floor,” said Radinovich.
Ruud agreed, saying, “For the most part people were respectful up until the last day when people got very excited. Then some people got a little hateful, but for the most part we had a very civil discussion on this for what we had.”
Minnesota will become the 12th state to allow same-sex marriages. Anderson couldn’t be reached for comment.