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Civil unions, domestic partnerships, and same sex marriage (SSM)


1977-2013: Same-sex marriage comes to Minnesota

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As of 2012-OCT, the state didn't recognize loving, committed same-sex relationships; couples were treated only as "legal strangers" -- as roommates. They and their children were denied hundreds of state protections and benefits that opposite-sex couples are automatically granted when they marry.

Since 2004, conservatives in the Minnesota Legislature have attempted to pass a state constitutional amendment that would guarantee this form of discrimination by writing it into the state constitution. This would have make it impossible for the legislature to recognize same-sex couples in any way. It would also prevent state courts from implementing marriage equality through a court ruling.

Constitutional amendments are often incorrectly described as effecting a permanent "solution." In fact, every state constitution can be amended, and every amendment can be modified or repealed in the future. There is also the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court may declare a clause in a state Constitutional unconstitutional because it violates a clause in the U.S. Constitution.

At first, a stealth amendment was proposed similar to the one that was voted upon in North Carolina during 2012-MAY. It would have been promoted as preventing same-sex marriage (SSM), but would have actually been written to prohibit all forms of recognition: same-sex marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships, etc.

By 2011, support for civil unions and domestic partnerships had risen to the point where such an amendment would probably have failed in the voting booth. So, conservative lawmakers modified their approach. They proposed a simple, straight-forward constitutional amendment that would ban only same-sex marriages. If passed, the Legislature would have been free to legalize civil unions or domestic partnerships at any time in the future.

The amendment was placed on the ballot for election day, 2012-NOV. Although the trend nationally is towards majority support for SSMs and civil unions, polls as election day approached showed that the Minnesota constitutional amendment would probably narrowly pass, and write discrimination into the state Constitution. It would then be beyond the powers of the state courts and the state legislature to legalize SSM. For either body to do so, the amendment would first have to have been repealed by a second referendum.

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What did the polls say about the state constitutional amendment as the 2012-NOV election day approached?

There were four states -- Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington -- where referendums concerning same-sex marriage were included on the 2012-NOV ballot. In the first three states, the referendums asked the voters whether to legalize same-sex marriage. The results of public opinion polls in those states appeared to be consistent from month to month. By 2012-SEP, they showed rising support for SSM, falling opposition for SSM, and a reasonably large margin in favor of SSM. All three referendums passed on election day, by a margin of about 5 percentage points. SSM is now legal in those three states, thus bringing marriage equality to a total of nine states and the District of Columbia as of the end of 2012. The impressive showing in favor of marriage equality triggered legislative efforts in Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon, and Rhode Island to legalize SSM.

In contrast, Minnesota's polls gave inconsistent results from month to month, sometimes showing strong opposition and sometimes showing strong support for SSM as election day approached. It was impossible to predict how the referendum would turn out.

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The referendum and the aftermath:

The amendment failed. On 2012-NOV-09, with all precincts reporting, 47.46% had voted in favor, while 52.54% had voted against the amendment. The margin was about 5 percentage points. 2 As expected, there was a strong urban/rural, female/male, young adult/senior and Democrat/Republican divide.

SSM remained banned by the state marriage law. However the Legislature can change this at any time. With a Democratic governor, a Democrat-controlled House and Senate, and a policy in the platform of the national Democratic party in favor of same-sex marriage, the stage was set for an attempt to legalize SSM as the lawmakers took office in 2012-JAN. 3

A bill to expand marriage to include loving, committed same-sex couples was introduced. By early 2013-MAY, it had been passed by committees in the Senate and House, and by the full House. The vote in the Senate was held on 2013-MAY-13; it also passed comfortably. The Governor scheduled a signing ceremony on the Capitol steps the next day. Loving, committed same-sex couples were able to marry starting on 2013-AUG-01. Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize SSM. In addition, it is available in the District of Columbia.

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Topics covered in this section:

  • Part 1:  Historical time line of activity in the Minnesota Legislature and courts

  • Part 2:  State groups opposing and supporting SSM

  • Part 3:  More groups supporting SSM

  • Part 4:  Additional support for and opposition to SSM

  • Part 5:  What do the polls predict about the constitutional amendment?

  • Part 6:  What do the polls predict? (Cont'd). Comment by former Governor Jesse Ventura

  • Part 7:  2011 to 2013: Support for the referendum. Result of the 2012-NOV referendum. Aftermath of the referendum

  • Part 8: 2013-JAN/FEB: Poll of voters. Senate bill to legalize same-sex marriage was being prepared. Pro-SSM rally

  • Part 9:  2013-MAR: Another public opinion poll. Rally at the Capitol. Senate committee passed SSM bill

  • Part 10: 2013-MAR & APR: House committee passed SSM bill. Promotion of the SSM bill heats up

  • 2013-MAY:

    • Part 11: 2013-MAY: Visitors from New York state warn about loss of religious freedom if SSMs legalized in MN

    • Part 12:  Text of the SSM bill. A House vote is scheduled. Amendment proposed

    • Part 13:  Church vigil held. Demonstrations in Capitol building. The House passed its SSM bill

    • Part 14:  Senate passes the SSM bill

    • Part 15:  Reactions to passage of SSM bill by Senate

    • Part 16:  2013-MAY-14: Governor signed the bill into law. Some Christians' fears and concerns for the future

    • Part 17:  2013-AUG/SEP: Marriage equality arrives; SSMs begin. Catholic Archbishop Nienstedt delivers anti-SSM speech

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References used:

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

  1. David Badash, "Attempt To Ban Gay Marriage In Minnesota Constitution Fails," The New Civil Rights Movement, 2012-NOV-07, at:
  2. "Results for Constitutional Amendments," Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State, 2012-NOV-09, at:
  3. Don Davis, "Minnesota voters reject marriage amendment," Duluth News Tribune, 2012-NOV-08, at:

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Copyright © 2012 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2012-APR-30
Latest update: 2013-SEP-15
Author: B.A. Robinson
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