May 14, 2013

Minnesota governor signs gay marriage bill; 12th state to approve

Cheering spectators filled the south lawn of the state Capitol, with American and rainbow flags fluttering in a sweltering breeze.

The Associated Press

Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday signed a bill making gay marriage legal in Minnesota, the 12th state to take the step, as thousands of onlookers cheered.

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An estimated 6,000 people gathered at the State Capitol where Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed the gay marriage bill, Tuesday, May 14, 2013, in St. Paul, Minn. Minnesota becomes the 12th state to legalize gay marriage. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

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Mark Winiecki of Forest Lake, Minn., displays his opposition to Monday's passage of the gay marriage bill on the steps of the State Capitol Tuesday, May 14, 2013, in St. Paul, Minn. Gov. Mark Dayton will sign the bill, passed largely by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) controlled Legislature, in front of the Capitol early Tuesday evening. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

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"What a day for Minnesota!" Dayton, a Democrat, declared moments before putting his signature on a bill. "And what a difference a year and an election can make in our state."

Rainbow and American flags flapped in a sweltering breeze during the ceremony, held on the Capitol's south steps. The crowd, estimated by the State Patrol at 6,000, spilled down the steps and across the lawn toward downtown St. Paul.

Dayton thanked legislators for "political courage" before signing the bill just a day after it passed the state Senate. It passed the House last week.

The push for gay marriage was a rapid turnabout from just six months ago, when gay marriage supporters had to mobilize to turn back a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage. Minnesota already had such a law, but an amendment would have been harder to undo.

But voters rejected the amendment, and the forces that organized to defeat it soon turned their attention to legalizing gay marriage. Democrats' takeover of the Legislature in the November election aided their cause.

The two main sponsors of the bill, Rep. Karen Clark and Sen. Scott Dibble, were among the onlookers as Dayton signed, capping their long and often discouraging struggle to advance gay rights.

Clark, 67, was first elected to the Legislature in 1980, a decade after she came out of the closet to her parents. In 1993, her by-then elderly parents marched with her in the Minneapolis gay pride parade a few weeks after she led the effort to extend Minnesota's civil rights protections to gay people.

But by 1997, the same Legislature passed the "Defense of Marriage Act," which restricted marriage to only opposite-sex couples. A year later, Clark introduced a bill to repeal it and allow gay marriage.

It took 16 years to get to this week, which comes two years after the 2011 Legislature — then controlled by Republicans — put an amendment on the statewide ballot asking voters to cement the existing gay marriage ban in the state constitution.

"I thought it would happen someday, but I didn't know I would be able to be here to be part of it," Clark said hours before the ceremony.

While on the House floor last week defending her quest to legalize gay marriage, she won plaudits even from Republicans opposed to the bill.

"I don't know of a kinder, more gentle woman on this floor that has a bigger heart for the environment, the underprivileged, the downtrodden, the American Indian, especially the women. I admire you," said Tony Cornish, a longtime Republican representative from rural southern Minnesota.

"It was hard because it was very personal," Dibble said of the 2011 vote. "People whom I had counted as very, very good friends voted for it."

Dibble, 47, graduated from high school in the Minneapolis suburb of Apple Valley and came out in college. He cut his teeth politically in the late 1980s as a member of the Minnesota chapter of ACT UP, a gay civil rights group that engaged in civil disobedience out of anger toward government neglect of AIDS and HIV sufferers. He got an early chance to join the establishment from Clark, who tapped him to run one of her re-election campaigns.

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Additional Photos

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Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, left, sponsor of the gay marriage bill in the Minnesota Senate, and his partner Richard Leyva greet a large, joyous crowd as the arrive at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. on Monday, May 13, 2013. The Minnesota Senate is scheduled open debate at noon on a bill that would make Minnesota the 12th state to legalize gay marriage and the first to pass such a measure out of its Legislature. The chamber's majority Democratic leaders have said they expect it to pass and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has promised to sign it. (AP Photo/The St. Paul Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin) MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE OUT

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In this May 9, 2013 file photo, gay marriage sponsors Rep. Karen Clark, right, and Sen. Scott Dibble celebrate after the Minnesota House passed the gay marriage bill in St. Paul, Minn. The two openly gay Minnesota state lawmakers, who respectively sponsored the measure in the state House and Senate, prepared to watch Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton sign the bill in a ceremony Tuesday, May 14, 2013, on the front steps of Minnesota’s Capitol. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

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Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signs the gay marriage bill in front of the State Capitol Tuesday, May 14, 2013, in St. Paul, Minn. Minnesota becomes the 12th state to legalize gay marriage. Looking over Dayton's shoulder are bill sponsors, Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Karen Clark. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

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