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Local legislators split on same-sex marriage vote

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For Rep. Pat Garofalo, last week's vote on same-sex marriage came down to a matter of practicality. He figured the legislation had the votes it needed to pass, so he tried to get something he believed his constituents wanted.

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Garofalo and the rest of the Minnesota House voted 75-59 last week to remove a state law that bans same-sex marriage. Senators followed suit Monday afternoon with a 37-30 vote. Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill Tuesday, clearing the way for gays to marry starting Aug. 1.

Garofalo was one of just a handful of Republicans to support the legalization legalizing gay marriage. He said he did so because of an amendment that protected religious organizations that do not want to perform marriages for same-sex couples.

"The Democrats had the votes to pass the bill, so a group of Republicans, including me, said we would vote for the bill but only if they had language protecting churches and protecting religious freedom," Garofalo said.

According to information from the House research department, the amendment offers churches and religious organizations protections "against loss of government benefits like tax-exempt status, and protection against fines or other penalties imposed by the government, if the religious group refuses to provide goods or services, or otherwise assist a same-sex couple in the solemnization of their marriage."

Garofalo called the protections "relevant, substantive and the strongest in the nation."

Democratic Sen. Greg Clausen also voted for the legislation. Republican Sen. David Thompson, who represents Farmington, and Republican Rep. Anna Wills, who represents Rosemount, both opposed it.

Garofalo said the votes that took place over the past week were set as far back as November.

"When Democrats took total control (of the legislature), that's when gay marriage passed," he said.

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.

Senators were quiet during the debate as about 75 House members and Senate staffers lined the walls to watch history being made.

Don Davis contributed to this story.

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