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Gay marriage bill moving again at Minn. Capitol

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota lawmakers prepared Monday for what could be a pivotal week at the Capitol for the bid to legalize gay marriage in the state.

Dozens of opponents of the measure demonstrated at the Capitol, hoping to slow the bill's progress. At the same time, another House Democrat whose vote was seen as important to its success or failure said he would vote for it, and the bill was scheduled for a last-minute hearing in a powerful House committee.

Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, joined a growing list of Democrats from mostly rural districts committed to vote for the bill. But House Democratic leaders and gay marriage lobbyists wouldn't publicly reveal how close they are to the 68 votes needed to pass the bill.

There are 73 House Democrats, but some hail from socially conservative districts that supported last fall's gay marriage ban on the ballot, and so far not a single House Republican has publicly supported the bill. House Majority Leader Erin Murphy wouldn't reveal the result of any head counts of her caucus members but said it was too soon to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote.

"We are talking with members and when we feel confident and ready to go, we will proceed," Murphy said.

The last day of the legislative session is May 20.

It's also possible the state Senate, where passage appears more certain, could take up the bill first to boost its prospects in the House. At least one Republican senator intends to vote for the bill, and a handful of others are publicly undecided.

The House and Senate committees that approve all state spending were scheduled for last-minute hearings to review the bill, after state fiscal analysts said it would mean a small increase in state employee health insurance costs and a bit of revenue from an expected spike in marriage licenses. The bill was scheduled for hearings late Monday in the House Ways and Means Committee and Tuesday morning in the Senate Finance Committee.

With the issue edging into the spotlight at the Capitol, gay marriage opponents gathered for a news conference and to demonstrate outside the House chamber.

Several small children held bright pink signs that read, "Don't erase moms and dads from public policy." Opponents argued that legal gay marriage could force business owners and government officials to go against their own religious beliefs in interactions with legally wed or engaged gay couples.

Jason Adkins, director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, predicted it would fall short in the House.

"Right now we believe the votes are not there to pass a redefinition of marriage," Adkins said.

But gay marriage supporters picked up their latest commitment to vote yes from Faust, a Lutheran pastor. Faust said he respected the religious concerns raised by opponents but that the argument cuts both ways.

"We have churches that want to bless legal gay marriages. The only way to give them that option is to pass this bill," Faust said. His east-central Minnesota district backed last fall's gay marriage ban with a vote of nearly 60 percent, but Faust said he hoped constituents would respect that it was a difficult decision.

In all, 17 House Democrats hail from districts that supported the gay marriage ban. If Democrats were to pass the bill without Republican support, at least 12 of those members would have to vote for it. So far, seven of those members are either definitely voting yes or say they're leaning toward it.

Only one House Democrat, Rep. Mary Sawatzky of Willmar, is a definite "no" vote.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.