The bill, which passed in both chambers after several amendments were defeated, now moves on to Governor Tim Pawlenty, who has promised to sign it. The controversial domestic partner provisions went away during tough talks between Senate and House negotiators and Pawlenty, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Legislative debate about the domestic partner provisions had more than its share of emotion and vitriol. During debate in the Senate — which passed the bill 39 to 26 — about an amendment that would have included the partner benefits, Senator Michele Bachmann raised concerns that the costs of those benefits would be prohibitive because “the homosexual lifestyle makes them more likely to be disproportionate consumers of health-care services.”
Quoting a report from the conservative Culture and Family Institute in Washington, DC., Bachmann listed what she said was scientific evidence that gay men are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse and have shorter life spans, and that gays and lesbians are at greater risk of psychiatric disorders. “The taxpayers of the state of Minnesota should be put on notice that we, in a budget crisis, may not be able to sustain this level of benefits,” Bachmann said, according to the newspaper.
Gay Senator: ‘You Can Wish Us Away’
Senator Scott Dibble, the only openly gay senator, offered several amendments that would have included a form of domestic-partner benefits. But he was rebuffed. “You can close your eyes really, really, really tight and wish us away, but when you open your eyes we’re still going to be there,” Dibble told his colleagues, according to the Star Tribune. Dibble voted against the final bill.
In the House, the 90-minute debate also was occasionally intense before the 121-7 vote. Representative Karen Clark, the House’s only openly gay member, moved to amend the bill to include partner benefits, saying it was a matter of fairness and good business. The amendment failed. Clark voted against the bill. “What is the public-policy reason for removing some state employees? Are they less worthy? Do they work less?” Clark asked her colleagues, according to the newspaper. “What is going on is really mean. It sends a message to the families of some of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community who are state workers that we are less valuable.”
The agreement would finally confer state approval on annual pay increases of 3% to 3.5% won by unions after a two-week strike in fall 2001. It also would strip health benefits from 70 to 80 same-sex partners of state employees on June 30, the end of the current budget period. As a compromise to speed a vote, both the House and Senate versions include paid leave for state workers in the event of death or illness of their same-sex domestic partners or anyone in the same household.
OutFront Minnesota, which advocates for the state’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, sent a letter to legislators saying it was outraged by the loss of the benefits. It nonetheless urged legislators to vote for the bill to “give our employees some measure of job security,” wrote Ann DeGroot, OutFront’s executive director.