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Tears of a different sort flow after historic gay marriage vote

ST. PAUL -- Gay Minnesotans and their supporters rallied with tears of sadness rolling down their faces two years ago. Today, their faces are covered with tears of elation as the Minnesota Senate voted to allow them to marry.

Senators voted 37-30 Monday to remove a state law that bans same-sex marriage. Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage, supported the bill. The vote followed a Thursday 75-59 House vote, leaving Gov. Mark Dayton's signature the only task remaining before gays can marry starting Aug. 1.

Dayton plans to sign the bill Tuesday.

A Capitol full of Minnesotans, mostly favoring gay marriage, chanted, sang and cheered throughout the day, well before senators even began their debate.

They sang "America" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and celebrated, anticipating senators to approve gay marriage this afternoon.

Handfuls of same-sex marriage opponents knelt in prayer at various spots around the Capitol.

When people began arriving at 8 a.m., there was little doubt under that senators would approve the bill, making Minnesota the 12th state to allow same-sex couples to wed.

The difference between a May 2011 vote and today's vote is vast.

It was in 2011 that the then-Republican-controlled Legislature sent a constitutional amendment proposal to voters, asking that existing state law forbidding gay marriages be enshrined in the state Constitution.

Minutes after the May 2011 House vote, emotional same-sex marriage backers pledged to launch a vigorous statewide campaign against the amendment. That 18-month campaign resulted in Minnesota being the first state to deal the first major setback to gay marriage opponents in recent years when Minnesotans voted 52 percent to 47 percent to keep the ban out of the Constitution.

In 2011, gay marriage supporters were upset and their tears were of sadness. Today, they were tears of happiness as work some had been at for a quarter century is within sight.

Polls constantly had shown Minnesotans opposed to gay marriage, giving amendment supporters hope until the November election that they would win.

However, Minnesotans' attitude appears to be changing.

Late Last month, a SurveyUSA-KSTP poll showed 51 percent wanted the same-sex marriage ban to be dumped, with 47 percent saying it should remain as is.

Other polls have shown similar results, after anti-gay marriage sentiment dominated polls for years.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, admitted things are changing on the issue when he spoke during Thursday's debate. Even so, he said, this is not the time to make the change.

Four House Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the bill, while two Democrats voted against it with most GOP members.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said since his district is very opposed to gay marriage, he feels like he must speak against it today.

"The voters of northwestern and west central Minnesota made it very clear they do not support gay marriage," Ingebrigtsen said.

In a newsletter he sent out last week, Ingebrigtsen urged voters in those areas to call their legislators and ask them to vote against the bill.

However, House members he wanted voters to contact -- Paul Marquart of Dilworth, Ben lien of Moorhead, Roger Erickson of Baudette and Jay McNamar of Elbow Lake -- all voted for gay marriage.

There is a fear among some Democrats, especially those in rural areas where gay marriage enjoys its least acceptance, that lawmakers who vote in favor of the bill will suffer the consequences at the polls.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.