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Minnesota Gay Marriage Bill: Can It Actually Pass?

Minnesotans came together last November to vote down a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have banned gay marriage. However, while proponents failed to reach the threshold needed to pass the amendment, they still garnered 48% of the vote. With public opinion so divided, it is unlikely that any gay marriage laws will pass during the 2013 session, but 2014 may be a different story.

Whatever legislators do, they will face a fired-up activist base. Despairing earlier in the year over their chances of stopping both the gay marriage and voter ID amendments, they have been renewed by their come-from-behind victory and legislators have already been feeling the heat. State Senate Majority Leader Tim Bakk (D-Cook) in particular drew fire for implying that the issue only concerned “some real liberal constituencies” rather than everyone as a whole. Things can only get more contentious.  

Unfortunately for gay marriage supporters, they face two huge hurdles persuading legislators to act on their demands. First, their anti-gay marriage opponents not only drew nearly half the vote in November, but the coalition supporting gay marriage is tenuous. Many people opposed the amendment less because they supported gay marriage than out of disgust for how the GOP tried to put the law in the constitution and circumvent Governor Mark Dayton. Many of them wondered that if the issue is so important, why not go through normal channels to pass it?

Legislators know this and, with the example of how ideological overreach doomed the GOP fresh in their memories, are wary of moving too fast. It doesn’t help that 17 Democratic representatives and 10 Democratic senators represent areas where the amendment passed — more than enough to prevent the passage of any gay marriage legislation should they rebel.

Consequently, the Democratic leadership is planning to focus on economic issues — or any issues — before they touch gay marriage. Process wise, this is a good idea as voters will be furious if their politicians fail to fix Minnesota’s budget and economic issues if any gay marriage bill proves so volatile that it brings the state’s legislative business to a screeching halt. That said, focusing on economic issues first may prove to be the death knell for any gay marriage vote too, as the DFL is internally divided over many issues and may splinter if conflicts between groups are managed poorly.

But that is precisely the reason why I expect a gay marriage bill to pass in 2014 if not in 2013.

Nothing in politics ever goes the way people expect, and by the end of this legislative session, emotions will high and relations strained over competing interests. The party will be more divided than ever. However, the Democrats have finally managed to secure control over both houses for the first time since 1990, and no one wants to give that up and have GOP resistance dilute their priorities. If things get bad enough, they will likely pass a gay marriage bill no matter what in order to draw a contrast between the GOP and themselves to drive turnout for the 2014 election. Reinforcing this process is the trend of public opinion towards support for gay marriage. Time is on the Democrats' side. What is controversial to some this year will only be mildly annoying to them the next. And if groups like Minnesotans United for All families continue to stay active, then there will be much less risk for them in following their ideological proclivities and legalizing gay marriage.

Supporters of gay marriage should thus keep hope. Change is coming, and it will be here in the next two years.

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