Gay Marriage - The look back at the biggest political story of the decade in Minnesota

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Listen: PKG: gay marriage decade (Bierschbach)

MPR’s Briana Bierschbach presents a sound montage summary of the biggest polictical story of the decade in Minnesota…the fight for passage of a same-sex marriage bill. Report includes numerous clips of the debate and outcome.

Minnesota went from being the 31st state to take up an admendment to ban gay marriage to the first state to reject one.


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SPEAKER 1: The longest government shutdown in state history, legal Sunday liquor sales, the rise and fall of politicians Amy Koch and Al Franken, it's been a big decade in Minnesota politics. And as we prepare to enter the 2020s, our reporter Briana Bierschbach put a call out for the biggest Minnesota political stories of the last 10 years, and one came up more than any other.

SPEAKER 2: House file number 1308 on the fiscal calendar for today, an act proposing an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, the first engrossment.

BRIANA BIERSCHBACH: This was the start of the House floor debate on May 21, 2011. It was a Saturday night, but if you listen closely in the background, there's the sound of people chanting right outside the heavy wooden doors to the chamber. People packed into the Capitol building to protest a move from the Republican-controlled legislature to put an amendment on the ballot to ban gay marriage in the state's Constitution. It was already banned in state law at the time. Former Republican lawmaker Steve Gottwalt of Saint Cloud was the lead on the bill.

30 other states in our nation have done this same thing and placed this definition in their constitutions. This is not about hatred. It is not about discrimination or intolerance. I have faith we, as Minnesotans, can have a reasonable dialogue on this issue characterized by respect and decency.

BRIANA BIERSCHBACH: It was a personal debate for some lawmakers, including former Democratic Representative Karen Clark. She was the only openly gay lawmaker serving in the chamber at that time.

KAREN CLARK: At least one of my friends over there has told me that he acknowledges that he knows I love and care for my partner, Jacqueline, just as dearly as he loves his wife. It's a tender truth.

BRIANA BIERSCHBACH: After more than five hours of debate, the amendment passed on a vote of 70 to 62 It had already passed the senate, which in Minnesota is all an amendment needs to head to the ballot. Then Democratic Governor Mark Dayton couldn't veto it.

Republicans didn't know it at the time, but their Amendment would kick off a more than two-year debate in every corner of Minnesota over gay marriage, one that would make history. Almost immediately, a massive anti-amendment campaign effort called Minnesotans United for All Families mobilized and spread out across the state. Their strategy was simple, one-on-one conversations with Minnesotans about who the amendment would hurt. It was nearly 2:00 AM on election night when Minnesotans United campaign manager Richard Carlbom spoke to a group of weary volunteers in downtown Saint Paul, still waiting for results.

RICHARD CARLBOM: I expect that we will not have a result before 2:00 AM, and so we'll have to ask everybody to leave. And at that point, we will have an all-staff call tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM to obviously update you.


BRIANA BIERSCHBACH: Then someone off to the side interrupts him. Carlbom pauses, turns back toward the audience, and his hands fly up in the air.


Minnesota, the 31st state to take up an amendment to ban gay marriage, became the first state to reject one. That night, Democrats also swept legislative seats in the house and senate, taking back control of the legislature. With Dayton, a Democrat in the governor's office, the conversation took a sharp turn from banning gay marriage to legalizing it. By May of 2013, a measure to legalize gay marriage was before the Minnesota House. . Speaker Paul Thissen's voice broke when he read the vote total.

PAUL THISSEN: There being 75 ayes and 59 nays, the bill is passed as amended and its title agreed to.

BRIANA BIERSCHBACH: In the Senate, Democrat Scott Dibble, who is openly gay, talked about the anti-gay marriage Amendment that sparked the debate to legalize.

SCOTT DIBBLE: So in an odd way, I'm kind of grateful, because we had an amazing conversation with Minnesotans. And we learned, like we always knew, that Minnesotans are good people. We learned that Minnesotans, when given a chance, understand the values that unite us are stronger than those that divide us.

BRIANA BIERSCHBACH: They passed the bill on a 37 to 30 vote. And the next day, May 14, 2013, the governor signed it into law in a ceremony on the Capitol's front steps, making Minnesota the 12th state to legalize gay marriage.

MARK DAYTON: Last year, there were concerns that marriage equality would be banned here forever. Now, my signature will make it legal in 2 and 1/2 months.


BRIANA BIERSCHBACH: Two years later, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution requires all states to recognize same-sex marriages. Briana Bierschbach, MPR News, Saint Paul.

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