- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 22, 2011

The gay-marriage battle has come to Minnesota after lawmakers passed a bill late Saturday night to allow voters to define marriage in their state constitution.

The bipartisan 70-62 vote followed two days of rallies over the bill. If passed by voters, Minnesota will become the 32nd state where voters have defined marriage and rejected demands for gay marriage.

Saturday’s vote shows what a sea-change elections can bring: Under freshly elected Republican majorities, the amendment, which defines marriage as “only a union of one man and one woman,” won Senate approval May 11 and sped to a House vote less than two weeks later.

Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, praised the bill’s passage.

“The institution of marriage predates government and has served as the foundation of society for thousands of years,” he said. “If marriage is to be redefined, it should only be society, speaking through the electorate who makes this decision, not judges or legislators.”

OutFront Minnesota, the Human Rights Campaign and their allies have already formed Minnesotans United for All Families to defeat the amendment. “In Minnesota, we treat others like we want to be treated,” said campaign spokesman Donald McFarland.

Meanwhile, legislators in other states are being pressed to address gay marriage.

In Rhode Island, where Democrats control both chambers, the House passed a civil-unions bill Thursday. Civil unions provide state marital rights and responsibilities to gay couples.

The bill’s fate in the state Senate is unknown, and it faces criticism from both ends of the spectrum. Marriage Equality Rhode Island and other gay rights activists oppose civil unions as “second class,” and Catholic leaders oppose them as a “gateway” to gay marriage.

Earlier this year, House Speaker Gordon Fox tried to pass a gay-marriage bill, but reluctantly pulled it for lack of support. The civil-unions bill was introduced as an acceptable alternative since Mr. Fox; Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent; and importantly, state Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed — reportedly support it.

But before the civil-unions bill passed, lawmakers still tried to turn it back into a gay-marriage bill.

In New York, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, an independent, and Democrats Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former President Bill Clinton are prominent supporters of gay marriage, and Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell has introduced a bill to make state marriage laws “gender-neutral.”

But there are numerous opponents in the Legislature, where Democrats control the House and Republicans just regained control of the Senate, and without Republican support, it seems doubtful the bill will be passed by the mid-June deadline.

In North Carolina, where Republicans now lead both legislative chambers, there are bills to allow voters to define marriage as between a man and a woman. A rally in support of the bills was held Tuesday, and lawmakers have pledged to pass them, so voters can act in 2012. However, both bills are still awaiting committee votes.

Gay marriages were first recognized in Massachusetts after a 2003 state judicial ruling and now have state approval in Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as in the District. Other states, such as California and Nevada, offer gay couples legal protections as domestic partners; New Jersey is a civil-unions state.

Earlier this year:

• Lawmakers in Hawaii, Illinois and Delaware enacted civil unions for gay couples.

• Indiana lawmakers passed a constitutional marriage amendment bill similar to Minnesota’s. However, Indiana lawmakers must pass it a second time before it can go to voters.

• In Iowa, the state House passed a traditional-marriage constitutional amendment, but the Democratic leader of the state Senate has kept his pledge not to let it proceed.

• A bill to recognize gay marriage in Maryland failed to pass.

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