Minnesota will become the 12th state to allow same-sex couples to marry after the Minnesota Senate approved marriage-equality legislation with a 37-30 vote today.
The bill will be signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton (D) tomorrow, thus making Minnesota the third state to approve marriage-equality legislation this month and the first Midwestern state legislature to do so (Iowa has permitted same-sex marriages since 2009 after a ruling by the state's Supreme Court).
"With just a few words we have the ability to bring loving families across the state of Minnesota into the full sunshine of equality and freedom that they have been denied for so long," said lead sponsor and out gay Sen. Scott Dibble (D-District 61) at the start of the debate, as supporters and opponents could be heard demonstrating outside of the chamber.
Last week, the Minnesota House of Representatives voted 75-59 in favor of the same-sex marriage bill.
The Senate quickly adopted the House version of the bill, which included a Republican amendment tacked on last week that increasing religious protections by inserting the word "civil" before all references to "marriage." A great deal of the debate focused on a Republican-proposed amendment that sought to expand those religious protections further. However, marriage equality supporters described the amendment as "breathtaking" and argued it would open the door to discrimination across the state. The amendment was defeated 26-41.
Although many expected the House to approve the bill, opponents maintained the bill would be a slippery slope. Describing Europe as on the verge of "civil disaster" because of their embrace of marriage equality, Republican Sen. Dan Hall (District 56) blasted the bill as one that would lead to "civil disobedience." Responding to those who have asked him if he wants to be on the right side of history, Hall responded, "The truth is I'm more concerned with being on the right side of eternity."
Same-sex nuptials will begin in Minnesota on Aug. 1. Today's historic vote comes two years after Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature bypassed the governor to put an initiative on the ballot to amend the state’s Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. However, on Election Day in November, Minnesota voters rejected the amendment and ushered in Democratic majorities in both chambers.
"Minnesota is a perfect example of the progress we’ve made on marriage equality in America," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a statement responding to the bill's passage. "Voters in Minnesota brought anti-equality efforts to a screeching halt on Election Day, and today state leaders in St. Paul made it clear that all Minnesota families are equal in the eyes of the law."
Following the approval of marriage equality legislation in Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota in the past two weeks, now eyes turn to Illinois. The Illinois state Senate approved same-sex marriage legislation with a 34-21 vote nearly three months ago on Valentine's Day. Supporters have said they will not bring the bill to the floor of the House for a vote until the have the votes necessary for passage. Last week marriage-equality supporter and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) called on lawmakers to act, telling the Chicago Tribune, "It's time to vote."
[Image: The final Minnesota Senate vote (Screenshot courtesy of the Minnesota Senate).]