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Minnesota House votes to advance same-sex marriage bill

By David Bailey

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (Reuters) - Minnesota's House of Representatives approved a bill on Thursday to legalize same-sex marriage, a step toward making Minnesota the 12th U.S. state to do so and the third this month after Delaware and Rhode Island.

Representatives in the Democratic-led state House voted 75-59 to approve the bill and send it to the state Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats.

Senate leaders have said they have the votes to approve the measure and plan a vote on Monday. Democratic Governor Mark Dayton has said he supports same-sex marriage and will sign it.

Minnesota would be the first state in the Upper Plains to approve same-sex marriage through legislation. Gay marriage is legal in Iowa under a state Supreme Court decision.

"I am anticipating a big celebration, I am just very grateful and happy," Democratic Representative Karen Clark, the bill's sponsor, told reporters after the vote.

Democratic Senator Scott Dibble, lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, told reporters the House vote, which included some Republican support, was stronger than he had expected and encouraging for the Senate vote.

"I think this sets up tremendous momentum and a really really positive climate and atmosphere for the vote on Monday," said Dibble, who watched from an alcove in the House chambers.

Supporters of the bill, wearing orange and blue T-shirts, and opponents who carried pink "vote no" signs gathered by the hundreds outside the House chambers. Bill supporters shouted rounds of "thank you" to representatives as they left.

In the final debate before the vote, opponents questioned whether the bill would protect the rights of religious groups and individuals who believe marriage should be between a man and a woman. Supporters have said it would.

"We are redefining today in this bill, a definition of marriage that has been a bedrock of our society for thousands of years," Republican Representative Kelby Woodard said in the debate. He voted against the bill.

Thursday's vote came seven months after Minnesota voters rejected a ballot measure that would have put a ban on gay marriage in the state constitution. The measure had been put on the ballot two years ago by the state legislature, which was then controlled by Republicans.

Republican Senator Warren Limmer, a sponsor of the proposed amendment two years ago, said he remained opposed to the legislation working its way to the Senate.

"This effort doesn't just focus on marriage," Limmer said in an interview before the House vote. "It will change how businesses work. It will change how clergy speaks from the pulpit and it will also affect school curriculums in reflecting gay marriages."

U.S. advocates for legalizing same-sex marriage have won a series of victories in the past year.

In November, voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington state approved same-sex marriage.

Until then, advocates of same-sex marriage had never been successful at the ballot box, and voters in more than two dozen states had approved constitutional amendments defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

On May 2, Rhode Island became the last of the six New England states to approve same-sex marriage. Delaware approved same-sex marriage on Tuesday.

Same-sex marriage is also legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire. The District of Columbia also has legalized same-sex marriage.

A proposal to make same-sex marriage legal remains pending before the Illinois legislature. The Illinois Senate approved a gay marriage bill on Valentine's Day in February, but the measure has not been voted on in the full House.

(Additional reporting by Edith Honan in New York; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan, David Gregorio and Mohammad Zargham)

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