by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Republican Sen. Branden Petersen drew a deep breath and voted “Yes.”
The Senate freshman’s vote was the sole Republican vote for the historic legislation legalizing gay marriage that passed the Democratic-led Senate on Monday (May 13).
“I was hopeful that there would be a couple more (Republicans),” Petersen said, stepping outside of the Senate cloakroom.
“(But) I’m comfortable where I’m at,” he said.
The Senate’s 37 to 30. passage of the marriage bill propels it out of the Legislature and to the desk of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
Dayton is expected to sign the bill at a ceremony Tuesday (May 14) on the State Capitol steps at 5 p.m.
The Democratic-led House late last week passed the identical legislation approved Monday by the Senate.
In that House vote, four Republicans joined with Democrats in advancing the bill.
But deep divisions over the legislation, which, once signed by Dayton, would make Minnesota the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage, were plainly visible on the Senate floor.
“Don’t fool yourself today,” Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, warned of thinking the vote ended the same-sex marriage debate.
Hall said the legislation could spark civil disobedience, inciting passions not seen since the Civil War.
Republicans twice attempted to amend the legislation, heralding an amendment offered by Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, as providing better protections for those objecting to gay marriage based on personal religious beliefs.
Under one provision in the amendment, no private person would have been required to provide accommodations, facilities, goods, or other services for marriages that violated their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Heartfelt religious beliefs are not something that can be honored and then set aside, Gazelka argued.
“It’s about living your faith seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” he said.
Democrats sharply attacked that amendment.
“This is certainly one of the most discriminatory things I’ve seen in a long time,” said Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights.
Other Democrats, such as Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, depicted the amendment as an assault on civil liberties.
Under it, an individual, acting on sincere religious beliefs, could refuse to provide services to a disabled person marrying a non-disabled person, Latz argued.
“Do we really want to go there?” he asked.
Gazelka’s amendment failed on a 26 to 41 vote.
Another Republican amendment would have required the continued use of the certain words such as “man” and “woman” in state law in describing the marriage of opposite sex partners.
Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, argued that the provision would guard usage of the words “mother” and “father” that “we have used forever.”
But the amendment failed on a 31 to 36 vote.
A number of Senate Democrats rose on the floor to support the marriage legislation.
Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, called the bill a stepping stone for equality for all people.
Latz called the marriage-equity question the civil rights issue of his generation.
“The separation of church and state is for the protection of both,” he said.
Sen. Alice Johnson, DFL-Spring Lake Park, spoke of her personal life.
She mentioned her marriage to a former lawmaker, Richard Jefferson, who is black, and how some people still question marriages between people of different races.
“Let’s learn from history, please,” Johnson said.
Gazelka, while professing his respect for gays, said God does have rights and wrongs.
It appears God is on both sides of the marriage issue, Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood said.
“Rejoice” — let’s move ahead, he said.
But Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, spoke of Minnesotans feeling cheated concerning the Republican-sponsored marriage amendment that defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
Those opposed to that amendment, defeated in the 2012 elections, assured the public, she said, that nothing would change by voting against the amendment.
“Do they (the public) feel betrayed today — absolutely,” she said.
But Senate bill author, Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, called his bill a simple, though powerful, piece of legislation.
Even so, the legislation does not change the meaning of marriage, he argued.
“We are redefining nothing,” Dibble said.
Petersen described the debate over the marriage issue as a clash of philosophies.
Citing equal protection afforded by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Petersen said:
“I am absolutely certain I stand on the side of individual liberty.”
Shortly after, Petersen drew a deep breath and voted “Yes”.
“There’s five of us,” Petersen said of the total number of Republicans, House and Senate, that voted for the marriage bill.
“I certainly went out on a limb,” Petersen said.
“But I think it’s moving in the right direction,” he said.
Petersen said it would be unwise for Republicans to attempt to repeal the marriage legislation in the future.
Speaking after the floor session, Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said there were no hard feelings in the Senate Republican Caucus towards Petersen.
“We settled that a long time ago,” Benson said.
Republicans, too, spoke of the marriage vote as historic.
“This is once-in generation kind of bill,” Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said prior to start of session.
“It’s a big one,” he said.
Tim Budig is at [email protected]