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Minn. House Prepares to Vote on Gay Marriage

by Brian Bakst and Patrick Condon
Thursday May 9, 2013
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The Minnesota House stood ready to vote to make the state the 12th to legalize gay marriage Thursday, as rallies planned for and against the measure prompted heightened security at the Capitol.

House Democratic leaders and supporters of the measure expressed confidence they had sufficient votes to pass the measure and appealed to Republicans to join in its passage. If successful, the state Senate would take up the legislation on Monday, paving the way for Gov. Mark Dayton to sign it next week.

Debate in the House was due to start at midday.

Just last fall Minnesota voters were deciding on a constitutional amendment to fortify a gay marriage ban. The amendment failed and the campaign made a swift 180-degree turn, helped along by a Democratic takeover of the Legislature.

Thousands of people were expected at the Capitol for the historic vote. Orange-shirted backers of gay marriage started arriving several hours before the debate.

Gay marriage opponents said they expected more than 1,000 people who share their views to rally at the Capitol. The Rev. Steve Goold of New Hope Church led followers in a morning prayer before they set out to lobby lawmakers. He told them they had the power to change minds, but urged them to be respectful.

"Do not shout and boo. Pray," Goold said.

Some opponents held bright pink signs that said "Vote no."

Minnesota lawmakers were advised that security would be stepped up, with 30 to 40 additional security officers and restricted access to gallery viewing space and other areas of the building. State troopers posted squad cars near several entrances, and signs were posted warning that admittance to the building would be denied once it reached an unspecified capacity.

"It all has to do with the size and tenor of the crowd. If we have a volatile situation we’re not going to throw more fuel on the fire," said State Patrol Maj. Bob Myerson, who leads the Capitol security detail. "As far as anyone’s recollection, we’re looking at potentially the largest crowd anyone can remember assembled inside the Capitol."

Democrats hold 73 of the 134 House seats, but at least two from more-conservative rural districts intended to oppose the bill. Some others have said they wouldn’t discuss their vote prior to casting it.

One previously uncommitted Democrat, Rep. Andrew Falk of Murdock, informed his constituents in an email Monday night that he would support gay marriage. He shared reflections of his own wedding last summer and said he would be wrong to deny the privilege to other loving couples.

"How do I, in good conscience, not support that same right for all Minnesotans? A right that most of us take for granted. Marriage is about love. Marriage is about commitment," Falk wrote. "Marriage is about equality. Marriage is about finding the person that you cannot live without."

Falk’s correspondence was first reported by Bluestem Prairie, a left-leaning blog that focuses on politics in greater Minnesota.

No House Republicans have voiced support for gay marriage, though a few have declined to take a public stance. The legislation’s advocates hoped an amendment to the bill would get some in the GOP on board.

The amendment offered by freshman Republican Rep. David FitzSimmons of Albertville would reword the state’s marriage laws, swapping in the term "civil marriages" in all instances, whether couples are of the same or different genders. His amendment would strengthen religious protections so churches couldn’t be fined, punished or stripped of special status for refusing to perform gay marriages.

In all, there were five amendments to be considered before a final House vote. One would legalize civil unions that offer couples legal rights but stop short of full marriage.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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