Minnesota is poised to become the second Midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage after the state House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday that would allow the practice.
The House had been considered the measure's toughest hurdle. The bill passed 75 to 59 and heads to the state's Democratic-majority Senate, which is expected to consider it Monday.
Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, has said he will sign the measure.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage -- including Delaware, which acted Tuesday. Minnesota would be the first Midwestern state to legalize it with legislation. Gay marriage is legal in Iowa because of a 2009 state Supreme Court decision.
Minnesota, like Iowa, harbors a Midwestern progressive streak. (The state's Democratic Party is formally known as the Democratic Farmer Labor Party.) But Thursday's vote marked a stark reversal from 2011, when -- after a wrenching and emotional debate -- state legislators voted to put a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on last November's ballot.
Voters rejected that amendment last year, and same-sex marriage supporters saw an opportunity.
State law bars Minnesota's government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. The current bill eliminates that provision and allows civil marriages between same-sex couples. In a nod to conservatives, churches could not be sued if they refused to perform such marriages.
“This isn’t about bigotry, as several people have mentioned," the bill's Democratic sponsor, Rep. Karen Clark, said during debate. "This is about honoring difference.… I hope I’ve done a good job of really honoring and respecting the need for people who have a religious objection to marriage between people [of the same sex]," said Clark, who is gay.
Four of the House's 61 Republicans bucked the party line to vote for the bill, and some of the measure's foes were circumspect about their opposition.
“I do believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman," said Republican Rep. Jim Abeler, who voted against the bill. "Not all of us in this room or in this capital or this state agree. That’s OK.”
Republican Rep. Tony Cornish was more blunt. "I am not a homophobe or a Neanderthal or a hater -- none of those definitions," Cornish said. "The reasons ... that I’m voting no -- the basic one is my constituents back home. The majority of them wanted me to vote that way.”
Democratic Rep. Tim Faust gave a short homily on liberty and the separation of church and state on his way to a "yes" vote.
“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, the people that are opposed to gay marriage, at some point in their discussion, they always say, ‘My Bible says,'" Faust said, adding, "The question that keeps going through my mind over and over again is, do we as a society have the right to impose our religious beliefs on somebody else?”
Democratic Rep. Joe Mullery said of the measure, “If you support equality today, I think you’ll be proud of it for the rest of your life.”
Then he voted yes.