Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has signed a law permitting civil marriage between any two consenting persons, including same-sex couples. The new law becomes effective on August 1, 2013. 

The civil marriage law (H.F.No. 1054) changes “marriage” in the Minnesota Statutes (section 517.01) to “civil marriage” and removes gender from the definition of persons eligible to contract a civil marriage in the state. The new law requires at least one person of the couple wishing to be married to reside in Minnesota for at least six months. It also requires the couple to obtain a marriage license and to have the marriage solemnized, but no particular form of ceremony is required.

Addressing concerns of religious freedom, the law allows a religious organization to decline to solemnize or celebrate a civil marriage based on its religious tenets. In addition, a religious organization cannot be held liable for refusing to perform a marriage ceremony for any reason. A religious organization also may decline to provide goods and services at the solemnization or celebration of a civil marriage, if doing so would require the organization to violate its sincerely held religious beliefs. A licensed or ordained minister authorized to solemnize a civil marriage may refuse to do so for any reason without penalty.  

In addition, the new law amends the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) to make clear that a religious organization is not required to provide equal goods, service, facilities or other accommodations related to the solemnization or celebration of a civil marriage, in violation of its religious beliefs. (Under Minnesota’s public accommodations law, non-religious providers of such goods and services, e.g., party facilities, cannot discrimination based on sexual orientation.) This is consistent with other MHRA protections that permit religious organizations to prefer employees of the same religion in employment and to discriminate based on sexual orientation in the provision of education, employment, housing, real property and use of facilities. However, the new law does not affect the MHRA’s prohibition on discrimination based upon marital status and requires gender-specific terms, such as husband, wife, mother, and father, to be construed in a gender-neutral manner when referring to same sex couples.