Minnesota Poised To Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

Minnesota is poised to become the 12th state to legalize gay marriage. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign the bill on Tuesday, making Minnesota the second state in the Midwest to allow same sex couples to marry. Iowa's Supreme Court legalized it in 2009. Minnesota's embrace of gay marriage caps a dramatic political story that's dominated state politics for two years.

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Minnesota is poised to become the 12th state to legalize gay marriage. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign the bill tomorrow.

As we hear from Sasha Aslanian of Minnesota Public Radio, the embrace of gay marriage in the state caps a dramatic few years of political tug-of-war.

SASHA ASLANIAN, BYLINE: It's been a reversal of fortune that same-sex marriage supporters here could scarcely have imagined. Almost exactly two years ago, Republican majorities in Minnesota's House and Senate voted to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot. It would have banned gay marriage. Similar amendments had an unbroken string of victories in 30 states. The original force behind Minnesota's amendment to ban gay marriage was Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, back when she was a state senator in 2004.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: And I felt the Lord speaking into my heart at that time: Bring forth a constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman.

ASLANIAN: It took other Republican lawmakers seven years to get Bachmann's amendment on the ballot. In May of 2011, same-sex marriage supporters vowed to defeat it.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Love will prevail. Love will prevail.

ASLANIAN: Back then, Scott Dibble, a Democratic state senator from Minneapolis who's gay, worried about what lay ahead.

STATE SEN. SCOTT DIBBLE: It's going to touch off 18 months of a very angry and divisive and negative campaign, but we're going to overcome all that anger and all that divisiveness and all of that misinformation that they're going to try to tell about us and our families.

ASLANIAN: The marriage amendment became the most expensive ballot campaign in state history - $18 million. Gay marriage supporters enjoyed a two-to-one financial advantage over their opponents, primarily Catholic and evangelical Christian groups.

Minnesotans United for All Families built a statewide campaign that encouraged Minnesotans to talk with neighbors, friends and family members about why marriage matters. Then on election night, shortly before 2 a.m., campaign manager Richard Carlbom delivered the news to a packed ballroom in St. Paul.

RICHARD CARLBOM: Minnesota has become the first state in the nation.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ASLANIAN: Minnesota voters defeated the amendment by five percentage points. It was a night full of surprises in Minnesota politics. Voters returned control of the House and Senate to Democrats. With a Democratic governor who favored marriage rights for same-sex couples, gay marriage supporters saw their best opportunity yet, and two weeks before the end of the legislative session, the House approved the marriage bill. As one of the co-sponsors, Representative Steve Simon told supporters their work was almost done.

REP. STEVE SIMON: It's not time to uncork the champagne yet, but it's chilling. It is chilling.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ASLANIAN: But John Helmberger, chairman of Minnesota for Marriage, the main group that worked to defeat the bill, says many lawmakers ignored the will of voters in their districts, and it will cost them in the next election.

JOHN HELMBERGER: If what you're asking is: Are we thinking about effecting change in the legislature and the governor's office? Yes. But that will be a long-term proposition.

ASLANIAN: One witness to today's historic vote was a man who helped launch the fight for gay marriage. Michael McConnell applied for a marriage license with his partner, Jack Baker, in 1970. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their case. Baker and McConnell still live together in Minneapolis. When asked for their reaction, McConnell responded in an email, quote, "Finally, after 43 years, we are proudly the crazies and lunatics we were labeled. Love, the most powerful force in the universe has prevailed, just as we had always believed," end quote. Same-sex couples in Minnesota will be able to marry August 1st. For NPR News, I'm Sasha Aslanian in St. Paul.

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