Local legislators weigh in on marriage bill

On an unseasonably hot afternoon last Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton signed an historic bill legalizing same-sex marriage in front of thousands of cheering Minnesotans watching from the Capitol grounds.

Just days before Dayton signed the marriage equality bill, state legislators passed it in a 75-59 vote in the Minnesota House after a two-hour debate on Thursday, May 9.

On Monday, May 13, the same bill passed in the Minnesota Senate 37-30 after several hours of debate.

Votes in the Minnesota House and Senate were largely along party lines, with most Republicans opposing the legislation -- one Republican senator crossed party lines in the Senate and three Democratic senators from rural districts voted against the bill.

In the Minnesota House, four Republicans voted for the bill, while two Democrats voted against it.

Rep. Barb Yarusso, 42-A, DFL-Shoreview

Yarusso said she was pleasantly surprised, but not shocked, with how quickly the marriage equality bill sped through the House and Senate. Many state lawmakers had commented earlier in the session that they did not think the bill would even make it to the floor this session.

“I’ve hung out with young people quite a bit and anyone who knows young people should have seen this coming,” Yarusso said.

The freshman legislator said she has been a supporter of marriage equality long before deciding to run for office.

“It’s really just a matter of equity,” she explains. “People should have the same opportunities I and others have had.”

Yarusso said she attends a Lutheran church that is very supportive of marriage equality.

“This has certainly been a highlight for me, this and the healthcare exchange. It’s pretty incredible to be a part of this as a freshman. It’s a big honor,” she said.

She said she has received mixed feedback from constituents on the issue.

“My district has people on both sides of just about every issue, but our conversations have been respectful. Some people may differ on one issue and agree on another,” Yarusso said.

She added that she is from a respectful district where most people value having an elected official they can count on to stand up for their beliefs.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, 38, R-Lino Lakes

Chamberlain said he voted against the bill because he has never supported changing the legal definition of marriage between one man and one woman. He said there are secular and non-secular reasons for his position on the issue.

“It’s all about the children,” he said. “I could care less about the adult’s position, but the state has always had an interest in the innocent third party, which is children.”

He said he received feedback from people in his district before the bill went to a vote in the House, but calls to his office have really dropped off since then.

“The people who were opposed to the bill offered thanks for what I have done over the years,” he said.

He acknowledged that societal norms have changed in recent years, but stands firm on his position on the gay marriage issue, which he described as being “a very emotional and sensitive issue for everyone.”

He added that most rural counties in Minnesota supported the amendment that was on the ballot in the November election last year that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Chamberlain said elected representatives have to face tough issues head-on, because that is what they are paid to do.

“It’s hard at times, but that’s what we’re paid to do. You win some and you lose some,” he said. “I’m not happy with the outcome on this but am glad it’s over.”

He said he is looking forward to moving on to “more important, non-social issues,” like passing the state’s budget, regional groundwater issues in his district and firefighters pensions in White Bear Lake.

Rep. Jason Isaacson, 42-B, DFL-Shoreview

Isaacson was one of the co-sponsors for the marriage equality bill.

“It’s important that we provide equal rights for everybody,” Isaacson said. “I don’t like the idea that people are not allowed to pursue life, liberty and happiness as entitled by the constitution.”

Isaacson describes himself as a man of faith -- a Christian – who believes love and equality should never be divisive.

Yet he said he received the gamut of phone calls from people on both sides of the marriage equality issue.

He said he received a lot of calls from constituents who thanked him for his support on the issue, but also had others who were quite angry.

“I’m interested in hearing both sides. It’s my job,” he said. “I’m sure that during the next election some people will not vote for me because of this and I respect that.”

Isaacson said his priorities now are in working to improve infrastructure in his district, such as the I-694 and Rice Street interchange. He is also working to pass a bill that would help fight the spread of invasive species, such as Asian carp, which he said could decimate lakes and shutdown tourism in the state if more is not done to keep them from moving up river.

He is working with other local representatives on watershed issues and is also pushing to pass legislation that would fund voluntary all-day kindergarten throughout the state, among other legislative issues.

Rep. Carolyn Laine, 41-B, DFL-Columbia Heights

Laine said she voted for the marriage equality bill “because it’s the right thing to do.”

She has a couple of dear friends who are a lesbian couple that have been in a committed relationship for 18 years.

“We’ve learned a lot about love from the GLBT community,” she said. “I’m flabbergast by people who would suggest that a loving and committed relationship such as theirs isn’t considered as valid as that between a man and a woman.”

Laine said most of the feedback she has received from her constituents has been positive and does not believe there will be increased opposition in her district in the next election over her vote on this bill.

She said the bill passed quickly, which surprised some, but as soon as state legislators received confirmation that they had the 68 votes needed for the bill to pass in the House on Tuesday things moved quickly through the legislative process.

“That was a very exciting day,” she said. “The rest was just carrying out the necessary actions to move forward.”

Laine said the passage of this bill was a highlight for her during her seven years serving on the Minnesota State Legislature.

“It was time to pass marriage equality. The gay community very much wants to be accepted by society and enjoy the same rights as everyone else,” Laine said. “I’m very pleased to have been a part of this. I feel like we have given them a gift.”

Sen. Bev Scalze, 42, DFL-Little Canada

Prior to the beginning of the session, Scalze didn’t expect the marriage issue to come up for a vote, which she agreed with out of a desire to focus only on economic issues.

“My leadership said early on it wouldn’t come up for a vote,” Scalze said. “I’ve been telling people that.”

While she voted yes, Scalze thinks the budget should have come first.

“It’s a little troublesome that we did this first,” she explained.

Her yes vote was simply a reflection of her district, Scalze said, because the vast majority of the comments her office received were urging her to vote in favor.

In the aftermath, Scalze said the bulk of comments coming into her office have been to thank her for her vote.

However, she did note she’s received a smaller number of calls from people disagreeing with her vote.

State Representatives Matt Dean, Connie Bernardy and Sen. Barb Goodwin couldn’t be reached for comment.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

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