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Gay marriage bill passes House with help of local legislators

BEMIDJI — A historic vote to legalize gay marriage passed the state House Thursday afternoon with two local DFL legislators — Reps. John Persell of Bemidji and Roger Erickson of Baudette —voting yes.

Persell delivered a passionate speech on the House floor during the debate, ultimately asking his fellow members to support the bill. It had been unclear, at least publicly, how Persell would vote in days leading up to Thursday. 

“The whole issue that we’re talking about goes back to liberty,” Persell said, invoking a story about how he occasionally couldn’t see the flag in the House chambers during the pledge of allegiance, but that doesn’t make the words any less meaningful. “But I really take that to heart, as I know we all do, in saying that pledge of allegiance, and those last few words. And some of us say them pretty loud…and it’s because we believe what we’re saying with everything in our heart and soul: ‘With liberty and justice for all.’ That’s what we’re doing today.”

 Erickson, a freshman legislator whose district covers the northernmost tip of Minnesota in his home of Lake of the Woods County along with most of Beltrami and Hubbard counties, issued a letter to newspaper editors almost immediately after the vote.

He said it was a “very difficult vote for me,” but that he “respects the separation of church and state.

“When it comes to this issue, I believe the state should not be deciding who gets to enjoy certain rights simply because they have differing religious beliefs,” Erickson wrote. “This bill won’t take away anyone else’s rights. It simply allows same-sex couples to have equal rights under the law.” 

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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