ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — With supporters calling it a “historic” day, Minnesota lawmakers unveiled a bill to legalize gay marriage.

The bill, announced Wednesday, would repeal Minnesota’s 16-year-old law banning same sex marriage, making the law gender-neutral.

Surrounded by same sex couples holding their small children, Minnesota lawmakers announced the legislation that would allow them to be married.

“This is a day to be very, very proud to be a Minnesotan, because Minnesotans have rallied around this unifying, this clarifying discussion about the power of love in our lives,” said State Sen. Scott Dibble (D-Minneapolis).

The bill strikes from marriage law the words “man and a woman” and replaces them with the words “two persons.” It sets Aug. 1 as the date gay marriage would be legal.

See A .PDF Of The Bill

One by one, same sex couples spoke emotionally of getting married in other places, but having no legal status in Minnesota.

Rabbi Michael Latz says he has officiated more than 200 marriages, but his relationship with his partner isn’t recognized.

“We are a family in the eyes of God. We were legally married in Canada on Michael’s parents’ 59th anniversary last June. But right here, in my home state of Minnesota, the place where I was born, where we live, work, pay taxes and raise our children, we are legal strangers,” Latz said.

The bill is already generating fierce debate as Minnesota moves to become the 10th state legalizing same sex unions.

Opponents said they tried to warn Minnesota this day would come, calling it an attack on religious liberty and worse.

The bill does exempt churches who object to same sex weddings.

Even so, opponents say that could change. One Senator, a practicing pastor, vowed civil disobedience.

“I personally will go to jail before I ever perform a marriage to a homosexual,” said State Sen. Dan Hall (R-Burnsville),

Another lawmaker cited the human genome study as proof that same sex attraction is a “sexual choice”.

“There is no gay gene, OK? So, the concept that you are born that way and the idea it is an immutable characteristic is an unscientific lie,” said Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R – Glencoe).

A bill to legalize gay marriage might not have happened without the election last year, when Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional gay marriage ban. But opponents say voting against putting a ban in the constitution is much different than voting to legalize same sex marriage.

The National Organization for Marriage this week threatened to spend $500,000 against any Minnesota Republican who votes to legalize gay marriage.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would sign a bill to legalize gay marriage if it reaches his desk.

Pat Kessler