“What a day for Minnesota!” Dayton, a Democrat, declared moments before putting his signature on a bill. “And what a difference a year and an election can make in our state.”
An estimated 6,000 cheering spectators filled the south lawn of the state Capitol for the outdoor ceremony, with rainbow and American flags fluttering in a sweltering breeze, while Dayton thanked legislators for their political courage before signing the bill.
“By your political courage, you join that pantheon of exceptional leaders who did something extraordinary,” Dayton said. “You changed the course of history for our state and our nation.”
Dayton’s signature on the bill ended an intense two years for gay marriage supporters and opponents in this Midwestern state, which swung from a failed push to constitutionally ban same-sex weddings into a successful bid to becoming the 12th state to affirm them.
Watching over Dayton’s shoulder as he signed the bill were the measure’s two chief sponsors, Rep. Karen Clark and Sen. Scott Dibble. For them, it was vindication for a long and sometimes demoralizing struggle for gay rights.
“I thought it would happen someday, but I didn’t know I would be able to be here to be part of it,” Clark said Tuesday, a few hours before the ceremony. Clark can now marry her partner of 24 years, in the only state she’s ever lived.
The ceremony comes less than 24 hours after the state Senate on Monday approved the measure by a vote of 37-30, and five days after the House passed the bill on a 75-59 vote.
Tuesday evening’s signing ceremony kicks off a massive celebration in downtown St. Paul entitled “Love is the Law,” which begins with a parade that will lead supporters from the Capitol building through a route that has been lined with rainbow flags for the event.
The historic day in Minnesota is a rapid turnaround for gay marriage supporters, who last year organized a massive effort to defeat a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.
The groups who defeated the amendment quickly turned their attention to legalizing marriage equality, and their efforts were aided when Democrats captured full control of the state government in November.
Under the legislation, gay couples will be able to get married starting on Aug. 1.