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Last reviewed August 2018

Minnesota Issues Resource Guides
Same-Sex Marriage in Minnesota

This guide is compiled by staff at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library on a topic of interest to state legislators. It introduces the topic and points to sources for further research. It is not intended to be exhaustive.

Historical Context   U.S. Same-Sex Marriage Laws   Legislative History   Books and Reports   Articles   Internet Resources   Additional Library Resources

The state of Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage on August 1, 2013. It was a dramatic turn of events, occurring less than a year after a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman was defeated during the November 2012 election.

The summer of 2013 also saw the Supreme Court strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law barring the recognition of same-sex marriage, by a narrow margin. The ruling caused a variety of issues for states that did not recognize same-sex marriage, due to conflicts between state and federal law relating to tax breaks, pension rights, and other benefits. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that states cannot ban same-sex marriage.

The issue of same-sex marriage has a long history in Minnesota, including one of the first state Supreme Court cases on the subject in 1971.

Historical Context

The Minnesota Supreme Court was one of the first in the nation to rule on the issue of marriage between same-sex couples. The Baker v. Nelson decision (291 Minn. 310, 191 N.W.2d 185) in 1971 held that Minnesota Statutes prohibited marriages between same-sex partners. The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court. They issued a one sentence dismissal of the appeal (409 U.S. 810, 34 L Ed 2d 65, 93 S Ct 37; October 10, 1972) that stated, "The appeal is dismissed for want of a substantial federal question." Another significant event was the passage of Laws of Minnesota 1977, chapter 441, sec. 1. It amended Minnesota Statutes chapter 517.01 which included the phrase, "Marriage, so far as its validity in law is concerned, is a civil contract." To the end of this sentence they added the words, "between a man and a woman."

Twenty-five years after the Baker decision, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into law on September 21, 1996 (U.S. Code Title 1, chapter 1, section 7 and U.S. Code Title 28, chapter 115, section 1738C).

In 1997, the Minnesota Legislature passed its own version of what has been referred to as the Defense of Marriage Act (Laws of Minnesota 1997, chapter 203, article 10). The governor approved it on June 2, 1997. This act clarified that "lawful marriage may be contracted only between persons of the opposite sex" and went on to specifically prohibit "marriage between persons of the same sex" (Minnesota Statutes, chapters 517.01 and 517.03).

In November 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that the denial of civil marriage rights to same-sex partners was unconstitutional in that state. Due in large part to this decision, efforts were made in Minnesota to ban marriage, and its legal equivalent, between same-sex partners with the introduction of HF2798/SF2715, and SF3003 in 2004. These efforts were unsuccessful.

In May 2010, three same-sex couples from Minnesota filed a lawsuit, Benson v. Alverson, in Hennepin County District Court. They argued that Minnesota's ban on marriage between same-sex partners violates due process, equal protection, and freedom of association rights. On March 7, 2011, Hennepin County District Judge Mary Dufresne rejected their argument and dismissed the lawsuit.

At the federal level, on July 8, 2010, a United States District Court Judge in Boston, Massachusetts ruled in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management that portions of the federal DOMA were unconstitutional. The federal government filed an appeal in January 2011. On February 23, 2011, the White House directed the U.S. Department of Justice to stop defending DOMA in court.

SF1308 was passed by the Minnesota Legislature in May 2011. The bill proposed an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution stating that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Although constitutional amendment legislation cannot be vetoed, on May 25, 2011, Governor Dayton issued a "symbolic veto" of Laws of Minnesota 2011, chapter 88 (SF1308). The amendment was rejected by Minnesota voters in the 2012 election.

On July 11, 2011 the couples involved in the Benson v. Alverson lawsuit filed an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals. On January 23, 2012, the Minnesota Court of Appeals released their unpublished opinion. They affirmed that Minnesota's Defense of Marriage Act does not violate the single subject or freedom of conscience clauses of the Minnesota Constitution. However, they sent the case back to the district court for a more thorough review of the claims related to citizens' constitutional rights to due process, freedom of association, and equal protection. A Petition for Review related to the dismissal of the case against the state was filed with the Minnesota Supreme Court. On April 17, 2012, the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to review the case, allowing it to proceed to trial in Hennepin County. On September 14, 2012, Judge Mary Steenson Dufresne began hearing motions in the case. In late January, 2013, an agreement was reached between the county and the attorney for the plaintiffs to put off all action until June 1, after the end of the 2013 Minnesota Legislative session.

Several bills were introduced in the 2013 legislative session to address marriage law as the same-sex marriage debate continued in Minnesota. A bill to establish civil unions was introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives on April 4, 2013. A House bill that would eliminate the word "marriage" altogether from state law and enshrine "civil unions" in its place was introduced on April 25, 2013. HF1054, with the description, "Marriage between two persons provided for, and exemptions and protections based in religious association provided for," is the bill that ultimately passed in the Legislature.

On May 14, 2013, Governor Mark Dayton signed HF1054 into law, making Minnesota's marriage law gender neutral. The bill was passed by the Minnesota House of Representatives on May 9, 2013, and the Senate on May 13, 2013. The law went into effect August 1, 2013.

The Supreme Court ruled in Windsor v. United States that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional on June 26, 2013. The court struck down the federal law, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states, by a 5-4 vote. because it denies same-sex couples the "equal liberty" guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. The majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito dissented. The ruling means gay and lesbian couples who are legally married will be able to take advantage of federal tax breaks, pension rights, and other benefits that are available to other married couples.

U.S. Same-Sex Marriage Laws

Until the Supreme Court's ruling in June 2015, the issue of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples continued to be debated throughout the United States. Some states allowed same-sex marriage or civil unions, while others banned them. States have taken different legal approaches. The issue has been addressed through both state laws and constitutional amendments, the scope of which vary. In states that had defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, some banned same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships while others banned only same-sex marriage. In states that had legally recognized same-sex unions, some allowed same-sex marriage, while others allowed civil unions or domestic partnerships.

The National Conference of State Legislature's guide, Same-Sex Marriage Laws, provides a helpful summary of states' actions on this issue.

Legislative History

Here are some of the efforts that have occurred in the Minnesota Legislature to address this issue since 1969:

1971

  • SF178/HF61 were introduced to define marriage as a civil contract between male and female persons.

1977-1978

1993-1994

  • HF3016/SF1674 were introduced and stated that Minnesota would not recognize homosexual marriages performed in other states.

1997-1998

  • HF3773 was introduced authorizing same-sex marriage.
  • HF16/SF11, HF41, HF69, HF395, HF585, HF1065, HF1268, and HF1725 were introduced to create specific statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriage in Minnesota. Other than an unsuccessful effort to recall SF11 from committee on the Senate Floor on March 26, 1997, none of these bills had hearings. However, language from these bills was amended into HF925 with the acceptance of the A-25 amendment that was offered in the House Judiciary Committee on March 19, 1997. Attempts to get this language into SF830 in the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 7, 1997 with the A-17 amendment failed. Another attempt to add the same-sex marriage prohibition language occurred in relation to SF1908 on the Senate Floor on April 17, 1997. The amendment was ruled not germane. The language appears to have been added to SF 1908 in the House Health and Human Services Committee on April 18, 1997 with the adoption of the MB34 amendment. The language was then brought into the Conference Committee on SF 1908 in the House version of the bill. This was the bill that eventually passed (Laws of Minnesota 1997, chapter 203, article 10). This issue may have been discussed in other meetings as well. (The dates listed above are simply a few places to start your research and are by no means an exhaustive list. A complete legislative history research of all of the bills involved is the main way to determine when the issue was discussed elsewhere.)

2004

  • HF2798/ SF2715 were introduced to create a constitutional amendment recognizing marriage as between one man and one woman. These bills were heard in committee.
  • SF3003 was introduced to create a constitutional amendment restricting marriage definitions to the judicial branch. This bill had committee hearings.

2005-2006

  • HF6/SF1691 were introduced to create a constitutional amendment stating that marriage would be the union of one man and one woman only. Hearings were held by both the House and Senate.

  • HF3921/SF3504, HF3922/SF3501, SF2992, SF3499, SF3500, SF3502, SF3503, and SF3563 were introduced to create a constitutional amendment stating that marriage would be the union of one man and one woman.
  • SF1958 was introduced to create a constitutional amendment restricting marriage definitions to the judicial branch.

2007-2008

  • HF4248/SF3880 were introduced to make marriage laws gender neutral.


2009-2010

  • SF120/HF893 (hearings held), SF1210/HF1644 (Senate hearing held) and SF2145 were introduced to make marriage laws gender neutral.
  • HF999 was introduced to create civil union contracts.
  • HF1655/SF1988 were introduced to create a marriage evaluation study group. A hearing was held in the House.
  • HF1740/SF1732 were introduced to allow recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. Hearings were held by both the House and Senate.
  • HF1824/SF1976, HF1870/SF1975, and HF1871/SF1974 were introduced to create a constitutional amendment stating that marriage would be the union of a man and a woman.

2011-2012

2013

  • HF1054/SF925 and SF1015 were introduced to make marriage laws gender neutral. HF1054 passed as Laws of Minnesota 2013, chapter 74.
  • HF1687 was introduced to establish civil union contracts.
  • HF1805 was introduced to eliminate the word "marriage" altogether from Minnesota law and enshrine "civil unions" in its place.

Significant Books and Reports

Corvino, John. Debating Same-Sex Marriage. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. (HQ1033 .C675 2012)

Equality from State to State: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Americans and State Legislation. Washington D.C.: Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 2004-2011. (HQ73.3 .U6 E68)

Features of State Same-Sex Marriage Constitutional Amendments. St. Paul, MN: Research Dept., Minnesota House of Representatives, 2005. (HN79 .M6 S56 2005)

Kastanis, Angeliki, and M. V. Lee Badgett. Estimating the Economic Boost of Marriage Equality in Minnesota. Los Angeles, CA: the Williams Institute, 2013. (HQ1034.U5 K37 2013)

Minnesota State Bar Association Unmarried Couples Task Force Report. Minnesota, The Association, 2009. (KFM5502.A3 M56 2009)

Solomon, Marc. Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits - And Won. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, [2014]. (HQ1035.U6 S65 2014)

Stone, Amy L. Gay Rights at the Ballot Box. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. (HQ78.U5 S76 2012).

Significant Articles

(articles in reverse chronological order)

Ross, Jenna. "Same-Sex Couple Who Filed Historic Case Donate Papers to U Collection." Star Tribune, October 26, 2015.

"Same-Sex Marriage: The Court Defines a Fundamental Right to Matrimony." Supreme Court Debates, September 2015, entire issue.

Povich, Elaine S. "Same-Sex Marriage Means Tax Windfall for States." Stateline, July 21, 2015.

Eckholm, Erik. "The Same-Sex Couple Who Got a Marriage License in 1971." New York Times, May 16, 2015.

"Gay Marriage: The Defense of Marriage Act on Trial." Supreme Court Debates, May 2013, entire issue.

"Gay Marriage." CQ Researcher, March 15, 2013, entire issue.

Cox, Barbara J. "'The Tyranny of the Majority is No Myth': Its Dangers for Same-Sex Couples." Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, Spring 2013, p. 235-257.

Pentelovitch, William Z., and Alain M. Baudry. "When Conventional Wisdom is Wrong: Why Recent Proposed Amendments to the Minnesota Constitution Should Not Have Been Put to a Popular Vote." Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, Spring 2013, p. 193-233.

Schultz, David. "Liberty v. Elections: Minority Rights and the Failure of Direct Democracy." Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, Spring 2013, p. 169-191.

Wardle, Lynn D. "The Proposed Minnesota Marriage Amendment in Comparative Constitutional Law: Substance and Procedure." Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, Spring 2013, p. 141-168.

Mannix, Andy. "When Will Gay Marriage Be Legal in Minnesota?" City Pages, January 2, 2013.

Goldstein, Charles M. and Micaela Magsamen. "Constitutional Concerns in Defining Marriage in Minnesota." Hennepin Lawyer, March 2012, p. 8-14.

Buffie, William C. "Public Health Implications of Same-Sex Marriage." American Journal of Public Health, June 2011, p. 986-990.

Kuznicki, Jason. "Marriage Against the State. Toward a New View of Civil Marriage." Policy Analysis, January 12, 2011, entire issue.

Lau, Holning and Charles Q. Strohm. "The Effects of Legally Recognizing Same-Sex Unions on Health and Well-Being." Law and Inequality, Winter 2011, p. 107-148.

"The Case for Marriage (What Marriage is For)." National Review, September 20, 2010, p. 16-20.

Cook, Mike. "To Have and To Hold." Session Weekly, St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives Information Office, February 25, 2010, p. 19, 23.

Collett, Teresa Stanton. "Constitutional Confusion: The Case for the Minnesota Marriage Amendment." William Mitchell Law Review, Number 3, 2007, p. 1029-1057.

Schlichting, JoLynn M. "Note: Minnesota's Proposed Same-Sex Marriage Amendment: a Flamingly Unconstitutional Violation of Full Faith and Credit, Due Process, and Equal Protection." William Mitchell Law Review, Number 4, 2005, p. 1649-1676.

Significant Internet Resources

Minnesota's New Same-Sex Marriage Law - A guide and resources from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. 

National Conference of State Legislatures' Same-Sex Marriage Laws page.

Same-Sex Marriage Guide - A guide created by the Minnesota State Law Library.

Same-Sex Marriage in the United States - Data from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Provides a general overview of the subject including history, timeline, arguments for, arguments against, and current status worldwide.

Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law - Independent research on public policy and laws related to sexual orientation. Includes a number of publications on the economic impacts of extending or denying rights based on sexual orientation.

Additional Library Resources

For historical information, check the following codes in the Newspaper Clipping File and the Vertical File:
C92.2 (Constitution-MN Amendments and Revision), H40 (Homosexuality), M22 (Marriage)