ST. PAUL - Gay marriage supporters received a surprise endorsement last week from a Woodbury lawmaker.
Rep. Andrea Kieffer, thought to be a stalwart backer of a competing measure allowing civil unions, threw her support behind legislation allowing gay marriage that Gov. Mark Dayton was poised to sign into law on Tuesday, May 14.
Kieffer, of Woodbury, joined just three other House Republicans in breaking from the party in support of a bill authored by Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis.
The second-term lawmaker explained that her change of heart represented a transformation that previously elevated politics over principles: After her push for civil unions failed to gain traction on the House floor, she gave way to an amended version of the Clark bill that outlined what Kieffer called "extremely tight protections for religious institutions" and re-worded the legislation as "civil marriage."
"Not the solution I hoped for," Kieffer said through a news release, "but I decided to vote with the people and my principles over politics."
She noted that a majority of voters in her district opposed the marriage amendment on the November 2012 ballots. Kieffer said she later polled 4,000 constituents on the issue of gay marriage and saw similar levels of support.
Still, breaking from the majority of her caucus members was "very difficult," Kieffer said.
"It's easy to go with what everyone expects," she said. "It's not easy to do something like this."
The legislation, which received the backing of all three of Woodbury's lawmakers, passed the House on Thursday, May 9 and the Senate on Monday, May 13.
Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, said her support of the measure meshed well with her mission in support of restorative justice.
"There's an element of justice that is part of who we are as a country," she said. "I think that we have at least, in part, achieved a new level of justice for people."
In a news release, Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, acknowledged the bipartisan support gay marriage received from colleagues like Kieffer.
"People on both sides of the aisle are putting aside partisanship to support love, freedom and equality," Kent said in the release.
Senators voted 37-30 to remove a state law that bans same-sex marriage. The vote followed a Thursday 75-59 House vote, leaving Gov. Mark Dayton's signature as the only step remaining before gays can marry starting Aug. 1.
Dayton plans to sign the bill Tuedsay on the front steps of the state Capitol, where large crowds gathered Thursday and Monday, mostly supporting gay marriage.
Monday's debate was civil and quiet, but still energetic, as Republican after Republican denounced gay marriage or tried to make the bill more palatable. Democrats, meanwhile, compared the historic debate to civil rights efforts of the 1960s.
Republicans argued that God opposes gay marriage, but Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, turned the tables on them.
"God made gays and God made gays capable of loving people," Latz said. "Who are we to quarrel with God's intentions?"
The two sides of the debate agreed on the importance of the Dibble bill.
"This is a once-in-a-generation kind of a bill," Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said. "Pro or con, it doesn't matter."
"I can't think of another vote that I have taken that will impact so many people," Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, added.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said the bill does not go far enough to protect people who have "a contrary opinion." He said all religious organizations would not be protected and no business would be protected.
Sen. Scott Dibble. DFL-Minneapolis, said that other than the gay-wedding provisions, there will be no changes in state law that already makes it illegal to discriminate against gays. "What is true today will be true tomorrow."