Minnesota banned same-sex marriage by statute in 1997 shortly after the federal government approved the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). At the moment, neither same-sex marriage nor civil unions are legal. Minnesota’s legislature approved a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in May 2011 and voters will have the last word on the matter that will appear on the November 2012 ballot. A Public Policy Polling survey from May 2011 showed 72 percent of Minnesotans to be in support of legal recognition for gay couples.
After six hours of intense debate the House voted70-63, mostly along party lines. Four Republicans voted against the ban and two Democrats voted in favor of it.
When it comes time to vote, both sides will have had about a year and a half to fundraise and persuade voters. Supporters are “Minnesota for Marriage” and opponents, “Minnesotans United for All Families.”
Changing Public Opinion
Gay rights activists perceive public opinion to be shifting in their favor while opponents, like Jason Adkins, Executive Director Minnesota Catholic Conference, continue working for what “is about attaching children to their parents, not just a relationship based on a consensual agreement between two adults who love each other.” Interestingly enough, Catholics are not all on the same page regarding gay marriage. Tensions have arisen in the Catholic community “as some express support for the doctrine-based measures, while others lament the Church’s refusal to support gay marriages.”
Representative John Kriesel, a freshman Republican and Iraq war veteran who lost his legs in combat said “happiness is so hard to find for people, so they find someone who makes them happy and we want to take that away? We say you can be together but you can’t marry them? That’s wrong and I don’t agree with it.”
Also, Republican Representative Rod Hamilton, who is glad to let the people’s vote decide on the issue, said his daughter made a point to remind him that she would be eighteen in time to vote and that she was set on voting against the ban.
In the meantime, three couples who were denied licenses by Hennepin County officials (citing the state’s statute) and then claimed that DOMA was unconstitutional, will be going to trial. A state Court of Appeals dismissed the case claiming that it does not address gay marriage as an issue. The fifteen-page ruling was made saying that DuFresne, the trial court judge, “improperly relied on the Baker case.” Since that case the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that “moral disapproval of a class because of sexual orientation cannot be a legitimate government purpose that equal protection requires.”
The court case of these couples might not be as beneficial for the cause as one might think. The legal director of OutFront Minnesota, Phil Duran, sympathizes with the couples but thinks the case could end up in the Minnesota Supreme Court, which currently consists of primarily conservative judges. He says the amendment needs to be the main focus because if it is approved, the entire lawsuit will essentially be pointless. It will now return to trial where, hopefully, another dismissal will not send it to be appealed again.
- Can gay couples marry in Minnesota? No, but the results from the vote on the ban may change this.
- Can gay couples enter into civil unions? No.