Minnesota Equality Advocates Seek to Clarify ‘Civil’ Marriage, Get More Lawmakers on Board

As lawmakers in Minnesota's House prepare to consider a marriage equality bill tomorrow, advocates of the bill are proposing a change to state law that would add the word "civil" in front of marriage in a hope to get GOP lawmakers on board, the Star Tribune reports:

MNFreshman Republican Rep, David FitzSimmons, R – Albertville, has offered the change. FitzSimmons could not be reached for comment. It is not clear whether the change will prompt him to vote for the measure.

“Minnesotans United supports this amendment, and we will encourage the members of the Minnesota House of Representatives to support it as well,” said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United, the lead group pushing for same-sex marriage. “Representative FitzSimmons’ amendment affirms the fact that Minnesotans want same-sex couples to have the freedom to marry in our state while also ensuring that clergy members and religious institutions are free to practice their beliefs free from government intrusion.”

The House will vote on the measure Thursday, but so far not a single Republican House member has indicated their support for same-sex marriage.

Advocates are hopeful about the bill's chances. If it passes, it could go to the state senate as early as Saturday.


  1. Icebloo says

    Isn’t this the same as separate but equal ?
    Are straight marriage laws going to be changed to have “civil” put in front of the word married or is this just going to apply to gay marriages so we remain second class citizens.

    I think this is a bad idea. Marriage should be the same for ALL. We do not want two different types of marriage otherwise we are still not equal.

  2. Mitchell says

    Let’s not get overboard here. Every marriage that doesn’t happen at a church is by definition a civil marriage. I personally like the addition if it helps pick up votes (though it does seem a little bit unnecessary) but comparing this to separate but equal is nonsense.

  3. Louis says

    Yup, all marriages will be civil marriages…it actually changes nothing ( of course our civil govt only deals with civil marriage).

    Senate will vote on Monday…Saturday is the fishing opener!

  4. Josh says

    The article says the change will apply to “state law”–not just this bill. I read somewhere else that the word “civil” would be added to all references of marriage under Minnesota law.

    This simply underlines the distinction marriage equality proponents have long made between civil (i.e. state-sanctioned) and religious marriage.

  5. says

    Yes, all very fine. But is the intent that by using the word “civil” you distinguish a same sex marriage from “a marriage” ?

    Sure all marriages outside religious marriages are civil.
    But creating “equality” of marriage then distinguishing one form of marriage as “civil” is a deviation from that equality.

    Frankly, it’s either the same or it’s not.
    Isn’t that what the word “equality” means ?

  6. Mitchell says

    Well they are not exactly the same thing. Religious marriages are different from civil marriages. One is held in a church/temple/synagogue/mosque. One is not.

    At the same time, the state recognizes its definition of marriage. Some religious marriages are not valid in the eyes of the state. Most are.

    But let’s not forget that what we’ve been fighting for all along is for the right to be MARRIED. This doesn’t matter whether it’s a civil marriage or a religious marriage. After all, Christians don’t go around saying “we’re religiously married”.

    Equality doesn’t necessarily have to be 100% literal. Are you saying that Minnesota democrats (who are officially members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party) are different from other democrats?

  7. anonymous says

    They are not in any way “distinguishing” same-sex marriages as “civil”. What they are doing is just adding the full definition of what marriage already is into the language of the bill.

    It’s like saying out load to the detractors “Hey, you idiots know we are talking about civil marriage here and not religious ceremonies, right???? Get a grip.”

  8. shanestud says

    For some right wingers and religionists they regard marriage as “holy matrimony” and so civil marriage may allay their faith concerns…..I would hope. Good luck on Thursday Minnesota!!

  9. Josh says

    I think you’re confused, Jack. The amendment applies the word “civil” to ALL marriages under Minnesota law. It simply puts down in writing the obvious fact that the state government of Minnesota is not a religious institution.

  10. says

    @ Josh :
    Let all marriages in the State be
    “civil marriages” or marriages under civil law.

    If anyone wants to get married in a church, off you go. But that’s a private affair, nothing to do with us.
    Isn’t that the way in France and most other countries ?
    The post above was not clear as to what the “civil” was being applied !

  11. says

    I mean who cares about what they do in a church ?(….bread and wine into body and blood; magic underpants; sacrificing goats as offerings..)

    It’s equality before the law that matters.

  12. anonymous says


    They aren’t creating something “new” by stating that all marriages are civil. All marriages in all states already are civil marriages. No more or no less.

    Although we don’t do it in the US the same as they do in France etc. In those countries a couple is required to marry in a government office. Then, they can have a religious ceremony if they so choose after their civil marriage is recorded. But, they don’t have to have one. In the US, if the couple wants a religious ceremony, it also serves as the government portion of the marriage as the minister (or whoever) signs the legal documents for the state. That’s why they say the “by the power vested in me by the state” during the ceremony. The state has vested the minister with the power to perform the “civil” marriage as part of the religious ceremony.

  13. David says

    This is a good idea, because it underscores that all marriage laws are civil laws, marriages are civil marriages, and religion has no place in the discussion. You are free to take your civil marriage license to a justice of the peace or a house of worship, your call. We need to refocus the discussion on the state involvement in all marriages, which is that of civil law, and therefore, civil rights.

  14. Kevin says

    Keeping the fingers crossed we have the votes.
    One of the swing voting Democrats has just announced that after praying,she will be voting no.
    I can only hope this change will get the 68 votes we need.

  15. anonymous says

    @David…. absolutely correct. You are free to take your civil marriage license to a Justice of the Peace, to your house of worship, to an Elvis impersonator in Vegas, to the Captain of your cruise ship and many, many other options. You an take your civil marriage license to ANYONE the state has vested the power to witness and sign the license document as a proxy for the state and you will then be legally married.

    But, you can go to your house of worship and have as many religious marriage ceremonies as you want declaring your holy matrimony all day long and without a “Civil Marriage License” issued by the state and signed by someone with the authority to sign it, you are not legally married either religiously or civilly.

  16. Francis #1 says

    MN United is fully behind this amendment to pass because it would alleviate concerns that Republicans/conservative Democrats have regarding religious entities being forced into doing things against their will.

    Kevin, who was that swing Democrat whose voting NO? Two already said they were before and there are supposedly 8 yes votes locked up, with I believe 12 needed if I’m not mistaken. The numbers don’t add up if they lose more than one or two more, without having Republican support. Which may be why this amendment is being pushed.

    The problem I have with these amendments designed to “protect” religious entities added onto these marriage bills is that they are almost always abused by bigots (aka Arlene’s Flowers in Washington) but this doesn’t seem that expansive.

  17. says

    Adding “civil” is, of course, redundant, because only civil marriage has benefits and protections, but since it applies to all marriages (not a CU/marriage divide) and it’s been endorsed by MN United, then let them be redundant. I hope the unnecessary fuss will at least snag some votes that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

    The abuse by the bigots, such as the flower shop in WA, usually has nothing to do with marriage law but rather the violation of non-discrimination law. The bigots just like to pretend that marriage equality created their legal bind, but it’s a lie, as we heard repeatedly during the DE hearing the other day.

  18. revchicoucc says

    I am a minister who supports marriage equality. I have presided at same-sex weddings in a state where they are legal.
    While I now live in another state (a one man/one woman state), I previously served a church in Minnesota.

    To be legally married under the law, a couple must apply for and receive a marriage license from the state. Marriage equality laws are about allowing same-sex couples to obtain a license. Once obtained, the marriage must be solemnized by an authorized third party. State laws describe who is authorized.

    In all states, clergy are authorized to solemnize marriages. When clergy solemnize a marriage, they are acting as agents of the state solely for the purpose of presiding at a ceremony through which the couple enters into the civil contract of marriage. Clergy then sign the marriage license to confirm the solemnization took place. All states also authorize people besides clergy, such as judges, to solemnize marriages.

    Under the law, a couple is married if they have both obtained a license and solemnized their relationship in the presence of an authorized “solemnizer” and a minimum number of witnesses. A couple must do both things — license and solemnization — to be considered married under the law.

    So, if a couple went to a clergy person without a marriage license, and the clergy person presided over a ceremony, the couple is not married under the law. They may say “we got married at the church and didn’t need a license,” but without the license, they may not be able to claim the benefits and protections of the law, including those in the divorce laws.

    Likewise, if a couple obtained a marriage license then did not solemnize, the couple is not married under the law. Marriage licenses have an expiration date — if you don’t solemnize the marriage and return the signed and completed license, you must re-apply.

    It is opponents of marriage equality who are insisting marriage is primarily a religious institution rather than a civil law institution. But in America today, marriage is primarily a civil law institution and not a religious one. More than once, I have had to explain to a couple married by a judge that they are already fully and completely married. I am happy to offer a blessing of their marriage, but the church wedding is not “the real one.” “The real one” is the one at which the license was signed which, under current laws, could be the church one.

    I personally support requiring all marriages to be solemnized by an authorized civil authority, and removing clergy from the list of those who are authorized. Clergy would no longer be agents of the state and could offer, or withhold, a blessing ritual according to the practices of their religion. Even under current law, no clergy person can be compelled by the state to solemnize any particular marriage.

    Some who oppose marriage equality are concerned they will be sued if they decline to solemnize a same-sex couple’s marriage. Defining marriage as a “civil contract” or providing explicit religious exemption language are meant to protect them from such lawsuits. It does not create two kinds of marriage. Indeed, my current state uses the term “civil contract” in its law. Actually, I thought MN already did.

    I do not agree such exemptions should apply to business owners who do not want to do business with same-sex couples due to their own religious objections.

    I have no objection to such protections for clergy because I believe it falls under the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment. Just as I believe my state’s law not allowing me to solemnize a marriage for a same-sex couple when my church has no objection violates our free exercise rights.

    Sorry for the long post.

  19. John in MN says

    So let me see if I’ve got this correct: Clergy are acting as AGENTS of the State when they solemnize a civil marriage, yet are free to refuse to perform this civil function if there’s something about the couple they don’t like?

  20. says

    @revchicoucc: You wrote one of the most detailed and well-thought posts that I have ever seen on this site. As the majority of others posts have said, I agree that marriage is a civil contract, so adding the word “civil” is actually just emphasizing reality. If this helps conservatives get over their religious convictions, then I think that it is a good move.

  21. Jim says

    By all means clarify the obvious if that’s what it takes to get the point across: secular law governs civil marriages, not religious rites. Of course, nobody at all thinks otherwise. This blather about marriage equality threatening religious freedom is a lie and yet one more attempt by the haters to divert attention from the issue at hand: justice for gay and lesbian citizens. Add the word “civil,” but realize that won’t satisfy the haters or make them shut up.

  22. JONES says

    Bravo revchicoucc

    The church ceremony is a ‘blessing ceremony’ and the clergy is acting as an agent of the state.

    All marriages are ‘civil’ and that is why this is a civil rights issue.

  23. John in MN says

    I, for one, am very dubious about all the appeasement being made to the religious right over protecting religious liberty. Zach Ford over at ThinkProgress makes an excellent point when he says, in part, that this portends: “future attempts to curb back the rights of same-sex couples after marriage equality is achieved. Just as conservatives have resisted Roe by curbing women’s access to abortion as much as possible — like in North Dakota, Kansas, and Arkansas — they may try to limit same-sex couples’ access to marriage. Certainly, objections about violations of “religious liberty” already speak to this, suggesting future attempts to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community.”

  24. Booker says

    Actually, any provision that “protects” the clergy from being forced to perform same-sex marriages is unnecessary, since the First Amendment already does that.

    But if such a provision, as well as adding “civil” to the law, clarifies the obvious for some people then it’s a good idea.

  25. Francis #1 says

    So Andrew Falk and John Ward are both going to vote yes. Both were seen as lean yes votes but it’s clear now.

    Anyone have a head count on the numbers in Minnesota?

  26. John Normile says

    Blah, Blah, Blah,but after all these years, I still wonder why the church is so obsessed with my sexuality? Do they hate Pig Farmers for promoting so much sin? Tattoo Artists,perhaps?

  27. Icebloo says

    Once again this a great example of the U.S.A. NOT being a democracy.

    Religions pay NO taxes despite making BILLIONS on their investments on the world stock markets. Their “leaders” are not voted on by the general public. So why are they STILL dictating our laws ? We never voted for them, they don’t even contribute financially to the running of the country why do we idiots allow them to have this power over us ? It’s our own fault. We are dumbasses. Religion is the biggest con ever and people are STILL falling for it.

  28. says

    The problem lies in the fact the ministers of religion have the power to perform a civil marriage.

    Until that is removed there will be a confusion between a religious ceremony and a civil ceremony.
    yes , I know that in france you have to have a civil marriage first in a registry, then you can have any kind of religious ceremony you like.
    That’s the way it should be; separation of church and state.

    @ Booker : the law does not need to be clarified by adding the word “civil”. We know what a marriage performed in a Registry Office is and we know what a ceremony in a church is.

    But stop empowering Priests/Ministers from performing civil marriages. Reserve that power ti the state.
    Then turn to religion if you want “extra”.

  29. John says

    Well, as far as the states go, marriage already is “civil” marriage. For example, the state may allow a straight marriage that the Catholic church does not condone. So, I like the addition of the word “civil” – but it should apply to ALL marriages, not just same-sex ones.

  30. waffle says

    No matter how you look at it the relationship is different between a man and a women then it is between a woman and a woman or a man and a man. So really this whole argument is invalid because they aren’t equal. They are so different. Thus deserve different names.

  31. says

    notice “waffle” doesn’t know when to use “then” or “than”

    no wonder the poor plebe can’t figure out this whole marriage thing.

    problem with words, eh? were you homeschooled or were your parents siblings?

Leave A Reply