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Gay couples ready for married rights

A rainbow flag flew in front of the Minnesota Capitol building Tuesday night, May 14 as 6,000 people celebrated a new gay marriage law. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's gay community never has known such joy.

That joy showed Tuesday night as American and rainbow flags flew in front of the state Capitol when Minnesota became the 12th state to embrace same-sex marriage. Minnesota gays and their supporters could not contain their enthusiasm during a 45-minute ceremony featuring Governor Mark Dayton signing the historic legislation.

An estimated 6,000 people crowded in front of the Capitol in temperatures topping 90 degrees to cheer not only Dayton, but to greet as heroes dozens of lawmakers who voted for gay marriage.

"What a difference a year and an election make in Minnesota," Dayton declared. "Last year, there were concerns that marriage equality would be banned forever. Now, my signature will make it legal in two and one-half months."

It was just last November that Minnesota voters decided not to put a gay marriage ban in the state Constitution. Voters also turned out the Republican legislative majority that put the anti-gay marriage provision on the ballot.

Using a handful of pens to sign the bill the House passed last week and the Senate on Monday, Dayton took the last step to erase an existing state law that prohibits same-sex couples from marrying.

About 5,000 Minnesota gay couples are making plans to marry and then enjoy many rights for the first time now that a same-sex marriage bill is law.

"Love is the law," Dayton declared, then sent the throngs to downtown St. Paul and an all-night party.

Polls show Minnesota divided over the issue, but the trend appears to be in favor of same-sex marriage.

A UCLA Williams Institute study shows that about half of Minnesota's 10,000 gay couples likely will wed within three years.

Same-sex couples can get married starting August 1.

Among rights that gay couples will have for the first time is the ability to make decisions for ill spouses who are not able to decide for themselves. In some cases, a gay cannot visit a hospitalized spouse, which will change under the new law.

There also are some business-related decisions that up to now only people in man-woman marriages could make.

Project 515 has found 515 state laws that the group says discriminate against gay couples. The new law changes the law so same-sex and opposite-sex couples are treated the same.

Federal laws continue to treat gay couples differently, such as those dealing with Social Security benefits.

A gay couple legally married in another state or country will be recognized as being married in Minnesota.

The law's path has been controversial. For years, legislators on both sides of the issue introduced bills to support their views.

In 1997, legislators approved a bill to write the gay marriage ban into state law.

Two years ago, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment to insert the gay marriage ban into the state Constitution. That effort failed, but it inspired gay marriage supporters to campaign for the bill that passed the Senate Monday and the House last week.

When Democrats this year took over both chambers of the Legislature and Dayton remained governor, the gay marriage issue's chances greatly increased.

Just a few legislators broke from their parties' general stances when they voted on the marriage bill.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.