Republicans introduce legislation legalizing civil unions

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

It’s more important than politics, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said of finding compromise on marriage.

“The purely political answer,” Garofalo said, “is that nothing would be more damaging to Democrats than jamming gay marriage down the state’s throat.”

“I am a Catholic,” Garofalo said. “And marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman and God. If this is about protecting individual rights, if this is about consenting adults, civil unions accomplishes that without getting involved in matters of faith important to myself and others.”

Garofalo was one of several House Republicans, including Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, who appeared at a Capitol press conference Wednesday (April 3) in support of civil-union legislation carried by Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing.

The Republicans are pursuing the bill five months after Minnesota voters rejected the Republican-sponsored marriage amendment, which would have defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Legislation that would legalize same-sex  marriage  awaits action on House and Senate floors.

The Republican legislators on Wednesday portrayed civil unions — a contractual term to be included in state law whenever terms like “marriage” are used — as a means to  avoid pitting the state against itself over the marriage issue.

“This brings Minnesota together,” said  Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings.

Minnesota for Marriage Spokeswoman Autumn Leva said her group, which opposes same-sex marriage, is withholding judgement on the civil-union legislation.

But voices in support of marriage equity were quickly heard.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis,  called civil unions a concept out of the past, one creating a “new separate and unequal category for same-sex couples in our state.”

Dayton Press Secretary Katharine Tinucci sounded similar tones.

“Minnesota has moved beyond the question of civil unions – the question before us is whether marriages will be recognized, and the governor believes it is the Constitutional right of any person to legally marry the person that he or she loves,” she said in an email.

“There is no substitute for marriage,” said Jake Loesch, communications director for Minnesotans United, a pro same-sex marriage group.

Loesch, as did Thissen recently, said there was no hard vote count on the marriage legislation.

But it will pass when brought up, he said.

Thissen recently said the marriage legislation would not hit the House floor unless enough votes exist to pass it.

Democrats have insisted work on the state budget get done before the marriage issue is addressed.

A Star Tribune poll from early March showed the majority of Minnesotans opposed legalizing same-sex marriage.

Voters in his district are “overwhelmingly” supportive of civil unions as an alternative to it, Garofalo said.

He would try, Kelly said, to get a committee hearing on his civil union bill, but the legislation could be brought up as an amendment on the House floor.

He expressed astonishment that Democrats hadn’t proposed a civil union bill themselves.

Garofalo suggested his support came gradually.

“I will say that all of us are given new experiences to learn from in life. And that’s part of life,” he said.

Democrats should be mindful of what happens when the state is divided over a divisive issue.

“So choose wisely,” Garofalo said at the press conference.

Same-sex marriage cases are now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected]