The United States’ Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, which was enacted on September 21, 1996, defines marriage as a union between and a man and a woman. Further, the law states that the federal law restricts marriage benefits and requires inter-state recognition for marriage among same sex couples to be allowed. Through the years, gay rights advocates are pushing for the repeal of the law, or at least some recognition on their part to allow union among same sex couple by redefining the definition of marriage in the light of equal opportunity clause in the Constitution.
States allowing Gay Marriage
It was only on 2004 when same sex marriage was first allowed in Massachusetts. According to the Supreme Judicial Court, it is considered as unconstitutional the banning of same sex couples from marrying. After Massachusetts, several other states followed such as Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Washington D.C., Maine, New York, Maryland and Washington, which allowed marriage among gay couples.
Status of Gay Marriage in Minnesota
Like any other states in the United States, the state of Minnesota is likewise fighting for equality and recognition among same sex couples, arguing that now is the right time to make a decision. In 1971, the Supreme Court of Minnesota held in Baker vs. Nelson that marriage is a civil contract between a man and woman, thereby prohibiting Minnesota statutes to recognize same sex marriage. After the passage of DOMA, the Minnesota Legislature passed its own Defense of Marriage Act which was approved on June 2, 1997. According to the law, “lawful marriage may be contracted only between persons of the opposite sex” and specifically prohibits marriage between same sex couples.
Despite the ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts in the case of Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health in 2003 which states that the denial of the right to marry among gays and lesbians is unconstitutional in the State of Massachusetts, both the House and Senate Floors in the State of Minnesota introduced various bills to recognize marriage as between man and woman alone. The attempts to legalize same sex marriage in the state failed in the ballots.
In May 2010, three gay couples filed a case, the Benson vs. Alverson lawsuit, before the Hennepin County District Court and argued that the state’s ban
on same sex marriage is a violation of due process, equal protection and freedom of association rights that are afforded by the Constitution. Such argument was rejected and dismissed by the lower court. An appeal was filed in the Minnesota Court of Appeals where the appellate court ruled that the State’s Defense of Marriage Act does not violate the Freedom of Conscience clauses of the Minnesota Constitution. When a petition for review was filed in the Minnesota Supreme Court, the court refused to review the case and remanded it to the Hennepin County District Court to try and proceed with the case.
Between 2011 and 2012, a bill was passed to create a constitutional amendment which states that “only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage in Minnesota.” During the November 2012 elections, majority of the voters rejected the said bill. Thereafter, several bills were passed in the attempt to allow same sex marriage in the state.
As a compromise, another bill was introduced on April 4, 2013 by several Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives to allow establishment of civil union among same sex couples as an alternative to marriage. Such move was initiated by Rep. Tim Kelly, claiming that the bill will give gay couples the benefit of marriage while there is still an issue on whether gay marriage should be legalized or not. However, the numbers are still not clear on whether gay rights supporters have the needed votes in the Legislature that will legalize same sex marriage in the state.
According to a recent poll, most of the Minnesotan residents would not their legislators to allow same sex marriage. This issue is still a long way to go and the question “is gay marriage legal in Minnesota?” remains unanswered.