Minnesota's Senate is scheduled to debate and vote Monday on a bill to add the state to the growing list of those that allow gay marriage. It's the last step before Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who has promised to sign legislation.
A look at how the bill works, who it could affect, what got the state got to this point, and where Minnesota falls in spread of gay marriage around the country and worldwide.
House File 1054/Senate File 925 changes the term "marriage" in state law to "civil marriage," and expands the definition of who is eligible from "a man and a woman" to "two persons."
It would still block marriage between two siblings, parents and children, first cousins, or between uncles or aunts with nephews or nieces.
The legislation includes language to protect religious institutions from being forced to perform marriages between same-sex couples, and lets religiously affiliated groups refuse business related to same-sex wedding receptions based on religious objections.
If it passes, gay couples could get married in Minnesota beginning on Aug. 1. Some businesses are already jumping on the bandwagon: Hell's Kitchen, a Minneapolis restaurant, posted on its Facebook page that it would host a free Aug. 1 wedding for a gay couple.
In 1997, the Minnesota Legislature passed the law that inserted the traditional, male-female definition of marriage into state law.
By 2004, gay marriage opponents were pushing for more. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, then a state senator, launched a multi-year effort to get the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment before voters statewide that would have strengthened Minnesota's existing law against gay marriage by adding it to the state constitution. Throughout the last decade, more than two dozen other states passed such constitutional amendments.
But in Minnesota, leaders of the Democratic-led Senate continually blocked Bachmann's efforts. A former Senate Democratic leader, Dean Johnson of Willmar, even lost his legislative seat after Republicans highlighted his repeated thwarting of the push against gay marriage. But Republicans finally had full control of the Legislature in 2011, and they promptly moved the constitutional gay marriage ban to the 2012 statewide ballot.
That turned out to be an epic miscalculation. The amendment failed on an Election Day that also saw Democrats retake full control of the Legislature, and the campaign that formed to defeat the amendment quickly turned its considerable resources to pushing legal gay marriage at the Capitol.
The 2010 census counted 10,207 same-sex couples in Minnesota with the greatest concentrations in Minneapolis, St. Paul and several of their suburbs. A recent analysis of the gay marriage bill by Minnesota Management and Budget predicted that just over half those couples, or about 5,200, would be married in the first year after the bill is enacted.
That analysis also anticipated that eventually, some gay couples will get divorced too. It predicted 86 divorce filings by gay couples in 2015 and similar numbers in ensuing years.
Legal gay marriage is expected to slightly raise costs for state employee health insurance programs, but also raise a small amount from a spike in the sale of marriage licenses.
THE GLOBAL MOVEMENT
Minnesota is in line to become the 12th U.S. state to legalize gay marriage, and the first in the Midwest to do so by legislative vote.
The other states where gay marriage is legal are Connecticut, Iowa (due to a 2009 court ruling), Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington. It becomes legal July 1 in Delaware and Aug. 1 in Rhode Island. There are serious efforts underway to legalize it in Illinois and several other states. In addition, a handful of states stop short of gay marriage but allow civil unions between gay couples.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on challenges to both a federal law prohibiting gay marriage and to the 2008 California referendum that overturned that state's law allowing gay marriage. A ruling is expected this summer, and could either hasten or slow down the spread of legal gay marriage in the U.S. depending how the justices rule.
Gay marriage has also been spreading worldwide in recent years. France legalized it last month, becoming the ninth country in western Europe to do so. It's also legal in Canada, some Mexican and Brazilian states, Uruguay, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand.