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Same sex marriage (SSM), civil unions, etc In Minnesota

Part 1: Activity in the Legislature and courts.

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Historical time line of activity in the Minnesota Legislature:

  • 1977: The state Legislature modified the state marriage law which had read "Marriage, so far as its validity in law is concerned, is a civil contract," by adding the phrase "between a man and a woman."

  • 1997: The state Legislature passed a law similar to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It stated, in part, "... lawful marriage may be contracted only between persons of the opposite sex." It also specifically prohibited "marriage between persons of the same sex." (Minnesota Statutes chapter 517.01 and 517.03).

  • 1997 & 1998: A series of bills were introduced in the House and Senate to legalize SSM. None of them were given hearings by either a House or Senate committee.

  • 2004: Conservatives in the Legislature attempted to pass an anti-SSM constitutional amendment to prevent any state recognition of loving, committed same-sex couples. As in the 2012 amendment in North Carolina, it was a stealth amendment that would have been promoted as an amendment to prevent same-sex marriages. But it was written to actually prevent the Legislature and state courts from legalizing same-sex marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships, or any other type of recognition of same-sex couples. They would be considered as "legal strangers" to each other with the status of mere roommates.

  • 2011-MAY: The legislature consider a bill to create an amendment to article XIII of the Minnesota Constitution that would specifically restrict marriage to the union of one man and one woman. They realized that since their first attempt in 2004, voter acceptance of same-sex couples had changed. Rather than risk defeat of an amendment that would prevent the state from recognizing loving, committed same-sex relationships in any way, they crafted a straight-forward amendment that would simply ban same-sex marriage in the state. If passed, this would allow the Legislature to create civil unions or domestic partnerships for same-sex couples in the future. The bill was passed. 1

    State Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R) said:

    "Without the marriage amendment in our constitution, activist judges can substitute their values for those of the people of Minnesota. In fact, a lawsuit to legalize same-sex marriage was heard recently in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. This is exactly what happened in Iowa, Massachusetts and California. Similarly, legislators can redefine marriage without the permission of the people, as several legislators have pledged to do...I strongly supported this legislation during the 2011 session, and when it comes time to cast your ballot a year from now, I’m hopeful you will do the same." 2

    Governor Mark Dayton (D) vetoed the bill. In reality, he does not have that authority, because it is a constitutional amendment. His veto was a purely symbolic action, without any effect. He wrote and eloquent letter to the President of the state Senate:

    "Although I do not have the power to prevent this divisive and destructive Constitutional Amendment from appearing on the Minnesota ballot in November 2012, the Legislature sent it to me in the form of a bill. Thus, symbolic as it may be, I am exercising my legal responsibility to either sign it or veto it. Without question, I am vetoing it; and I urge Minnesotans to reject this mean-spirited, divisive, un-Minnesotan and un-American amendment.

    One of the founding principles of our country, embodied in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, is the separation of church and state. Therefore, the religious definition of marriage should be the province of each established religion, without interference from government. However, the civil, or legal, realm of marriage is the province of government; and it must conform to the protections and guarantees afforded every American citizen under our [Federal] Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment says:

    'No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; ... nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.'

    In other words, all American citizens are entitled to equal rights and protections under the law. That would clearly include the right of a citizen to marry legally the person he or she loves.

    The path of social progress in this country has been to expand our founding principles to [include] everyone. Even before the writing of the Constitution, even before their freedom was won, this country's founders established the core principle of our democracy:

    'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [and women] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness...'

    The authors and signers of the Declaration of Independence thus intended that governments be formed to secure every citizen's rights, not to selectively deny them or take them away. Of course, they overlooked women, African Americans, and others in their application of those rights. The path of social progress has been to include everyone, fully and equally.

    This path of social progress, of human compassion and understanding would be tragically reversed by this amendment. Minnesota is better than this. Minnesotans are better than this. I urge Minnesotans to reject this amendment." 3 

The amendment will be either approved or rejected by the voters during election day as part of the 2012-NOV-06 ballot.

Not included in the above list are many other bills involving the recognition of same-sex relationships that were introduced. Most were never even given committee hearings. None passed.

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Current status of active bills in the 2012 Minnesota Legislature:

  • The bill to add the Minnesota Marriage Amendment to the 2012-NOV ballot was approved by the legislature and is still in force.

    The constitutional amendment that will appear on the 2012-NOV ballot states that: "Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota." This is a clear, straight-forward amendment whose only function is to prevent loving, committed same-sex couples from marrying and receiving those rights, privileges and protections for themselves and their children that accompany marriage.

    In contrast, the constitutional amendment that was passed in North Carolina during 2012-MAY was deceptive; it is a stealth amendment. It bans same-sex marriage, as well as civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Yet it was heavily promoted by religious and social conservatives as simply a same-sex marriage ban.

  • According to Marriage Equality Minnesota,

    • The "Marriage and Family Protection Act" (HF 1710 / SF 1427), was reintroduced in the 2011 session and is still in play right now in the 2012 session." It would legalize SSM.

    • "... bills to repeal the anti-gay marriage ballot measure have been introduced in both the House and Senate this 2012 session and are in play until the end of the session. "4

Realistically, none of the pro-SSM bills have a significant chance of being approved by the Legislature.  

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Historical time line of activity in the Minnesota courts:

  • 1971: The Minnesota Supreme Court was one of the first of the state high courts to rule on same-sex marriage (SSM) in the Baker v. Nelson case. They determined that same-sex couples were prohibited to marry because of the state marriage laws. 5

  • 1972: The 1971 case, Baker v. Nelson, was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. They dismissed the appeal citing the lack "... of a substantial federal question." The U.S. Supreme Court apparently recognized that since the U.S. was founded, states had always had the right to define who was eligible to marry. Thus the criteria for marriage was not considered a federal question. That is a surprising ruling because there was an analogous case to Baker during the 1960 concerning interracial marriage. It had the ironic title Loving v. Virginia. The Supreme Court accepted the appeal and ruled in favor of interracial marriage across the entire country.

  • 2008: The group Marry Me Minnesota was incorporated with the goal of legalizing SSM in Minnesota via state court action.

  • 2010: Three same-sex couples in the state, Douglas Benson, Duane Gajewski, Jessica Dykhuis, Lindzi Campbell, Thomas Trisko and John Rittman, filed the lawsuit Benson v. Alverson in Hennepin Country District Court. They argued that the state's ban on SSM violates their due process, equal protection and freedom of association rights. Hennepin County District Judge Mary DuFresne dismissed the case on all counts.

  • 2011-JUL: The plaintiffs in the 2010 lawsuit Bensen v. Alverson filed an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

  • 2012-JAN: The Court of Appeals ruled that the state's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) law does not violate the Single Subject clause of the Minnesota Constitution because the DOMA law deals with only one topic: marriage. The Court also ruled that the DOMA law does not violate the Freedom of Conscience clauses of the Minnesota Constitution, because: "... there is no evidence that the state’s failure to recognize same-sex marriages interferes with appellants engaging in a religious marital ceremony." 6 However, they sent the Benson v. Alverson case back to the district court for a more intensive review of the plaintiffs' remaining claims -- that the existing marriage laws violated their constitutional rights to due process, freedom of association, and equal protection under the law. 5 Attorney for the plaintiffs, Peter Nickitas, said: "We expect the opportunity for full discovery, testimony, exhibits, evidence and a full-scale hearing on the merit, similar to the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger." This was the SSM marriage case in California that eventually led to the temporary legalization of SSMs in that state. 7

  • A Petition for Review of the dismissal of the case against the state was filed with the Minnesota Supreme Court. 8 On 2012-APR-17 the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to review the case. This left the Appeals Court's ruling in place that had sent the case back to the Hennepin Country District Court.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "This war needs two fronts," Marriage Equality Minnesota, 2011-AUG-16. at:
  2. "Viewpoint: Why Minnesotans should support marriage amendment," South Washington County Bulletin, 2011-DEC-21, at:
  3. Gov. Mark Dayton, Letter to M.L. Fischbach, President of the Senate, 2001-MAY-25, at: This is a file in the accursed PDF format.
  4. The home page of Marriage Equality Minnesota is at:   The facebook page of Marriage Equality Minnesota is at:
  5. "Resources on Minnesota Issues: Same-Sex Marriage in Minnesota," Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, 2012-MAR, at:
  6. William C. Duncan, "January 2012 case summaries," Marriage Law Digest Vol. 9, #1, January 2012, at:  This is a PDF file.
  7. Cheryl Wetzstein, "Court revives gay-marriage suit," The Washington Times, 2012-JAN-23, at:
  8. "Jill Alverson ... v. Douglas Benson et al. ..." Supreme Court of Minnesota, 2012-FEB-24, at:  This is a PDF file.

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Copyright 2012, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2012-APR-30
Latest update: 2012-SEP-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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