With the Legislature poised to consider legalizing same-sex marriage this session, a court case in Hennepin County seeking that same outcome has been put on hold.
"We're putting the ball in the Legislature's court to establish marriage equality," said Peter Nickitas, who represents same-sex couples who sued the county over its failure to issue them marriage licenses. They claim the state law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violates their rights under the state constitution.
If the Democratically controlled state House and Senate pass a gay-marriage bill and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton signs it -- as he has said he will -- the plaintiffs' action would become moot, Nickitas said.
But if the legislative session ends May 20 as scheduled without the law having been changed, plaintiffs could then proceed with the case. A scheduling conference has been set for June 5 if needed.
Nickitas said he and the Hennepin County Attorney's office agreed last week to delay the case.
A hearing on a plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment that had been scheduled for Feb. 22 has been canceled.
The case, Benson vs. Chapin, was cited repeatedly over the past year by advocates of a Republican-backed amendment that would have added a definition of marriage as a man-woman union to the state constitution. They warned that without such an amendment, the state risked having gay marriage legalized through the court system or the Legislature.
The amendment was defeated
by voters last November, and same-sex marriage advocates announced in late December that they would push this session to change the state law. They're kicking off the effort with a "Freedom to Marry Day" rally on Valentine's Day in the state Capitol rotunda.
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