ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A bill that would legalize same-sex marriages cleared the Minnesota House Thursday, and now moves to the state senate.
The historic vote set the stage for Minnesota to become the 12 state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
"I'm grateful and so happy," Rep. Karen Clark, the Minneapolis Democrat who has been with the same partner for more than two decades, told KARE.
"It's been inspiring. It's been painful at times. This has been 40 years in the making, really, and I've been here for 32 of them."
The final vote tally was 75 to 59, with four Republicans joining the Democratic majority in favor of the bill and two Democrats siding with the GOP minority in opposition.
If the Senate adopts the measure Monday, it will go straight to Gov. Mark Dayton, who has pledged he will sign the bill. Barring any legal actions to block the law's implementation, gay couples could receive marriage licenses after August 1.
It was a remarkable reversal of the political tides at the State Capitol, where only two years ago legislators voted to send a constitutional amendment to voters that would ban gay marriage.
Voters rejected that ballot question in November, and at the same time elected Democratic majorities in both chambers of the legislature.
Supporters of gay marriage decided to capitalize on the momentum from their 2012 "Vote No" campaign, and push for legalization this session.
Opponents of same sex marriage cried foul, saying the campaign to defeat the gay marriage ban had misled voters.
"We went from a statement that if you vote no, nothing will change, to everything's gonna change now," Rep. Peggy Scott, an Andover Republican, told KARE, after Thursday's vote.
"We'll see how it goes but this is going to change minnesota forever. Am I going to be called a bigot now? Am I going to be told that I'm discriminating?"
The corridors of the Capitol were filled with spirited demonstrators on both sides, who spent hours alternately chanting, singing and praying. Supporters of the Freedom to Marry Act carried orange signs, while opponents held pink signs with the slogan, "Don't erase moms and dads."
They lined the north wing of the second floor, making sure that legislators would see and hear them as they headed to the House Chamber.
Rep. Jim Abeler, an Anoka Republican, announced to the crowd that he was going to vote based on his faith. But he said he was invigorated by the show of grassroots democracy.
"I don't know what they're yelling, yes or no. I don't know who's doing what out there, but isn't this a wonderful day?" he asked his colleagues during the floor debate.
That debate was much more subdued than the noise of the protesters, but it fell along the same ideological lines. Supporters saw it as an expansion of marriage, while opponents saw it as a threat.
"We are redefining today, in this bill, a definition of marriage that has been the bedrock of our society for thousands of years," Rep. Kelby Woodard, a Belle Plaine Republican, asserted.
But Rep. Tim Faust, a Democrat from Hinckley, said his thinking on the issue changed as he realized that he couldn't imagine living without his wife.
"There are people that feel the same way about the people they love," Rep. Faust argued.
"And yet because of religious beliefs of other people, they do not have the right that I have taken for granted."
Rep. Tony Cornish, a Republican of Good Thunder, told Clark that he respected her as a colleague but was going to vote no.
"I want you to know that I am not a homophobe, or a Neanderthal or a hater," Cornish remarked.
Another opponent, Rep. Tony Albright of Prior Lake, said changing the rules for marriage would further alienate people who believe government has encroached on their lives.
"They see us spinning out of control. They feel helpless. They feel powerless," Albright said.
"I ask you to have the courage to seek the wisdom of your creator, God," he said.
Rep. Steve Simon, a Democrat for St. Louis Park, implored his colleagues to change the way they view gays and lesbians.
"Those in the GLBT community do not have some sort of condition to be pitied or prayed away," Simon said.
"What they have is a god-given orientation that should be celebrated and welcomed."
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