ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO/AP) – In passionate back-and-forth testimony, the debate over same-sex marriage is playing out in a Minnesota Legislature moving toward the first votes on a bill to legalize it.

Two committees are holding hearings for the first time on whether to legalize gay marriage in Minnesota. Right now, marriage is legally considered a union between one man and one woman, but this legislation if it passes would change that.

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Supporters and opponents went one-by-one Tuesday before the House Civil Law Committee, which planned to act on the legislation later in the day. The Senate Judiciary Committee also planned a vote.

If the bills pass, they’ll slip below the radar for weeks as the budget takes centers stage. A final vote on the marriage bills could be months away.

The House panel heard from pastors, doctors, parents, children and couples on both sides of the issue.

There have been two big rallies at the State Capitol the past month from people on both sides of the issue. Last week the group “Minnesota for Marriage” organized a rally for people who are against legalizing same-sex marriage.

On Valentines Day, the group in support of gay marriage, “Minnesotans United for All Families,” held what they called a “Freedom to Marry” rally. This legislation would define marriage as between two persons, rather than specifically between a man and a woman.

Friday is the deadline for a bill to get out of committee. Legislative leaders say if the same-sex marriage bill passes out of at least one committee by Friday, they plan to put it aside for a while and focus on the state’s budget.

So a floor vote on gay marriage would be several weeks away. An Associated Press survey of lawmakers earlier found that there are enough votes to pass it out of committee.

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Certain lawmakers have made their voices heard in a strong way on both sides of the issue.

“We are a family in the eyes of God. 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,” said one lawmaker.

“There is no gay gene so the concept that you are born that way and the idea that it is an immutable characteristic is an unscientific lie,” said Rep. Glen Gruenhagen, a vocal opponent of gay marriage.

Two weeks ago he got national attention when he said that comment about homosexuality being a choice. But it’s comments he made Monday that now mean changes in the ways some debate the issue.

“It’s a point of personal privilege. I have a close friend here, Kevin Peterson. The interesting thing about Kevin is that he was active in the gay lifestyle for 10 years and then he left it, got married and he now has 3 children, thank you,” Gruenhagen said.

Some lawmakers believe Gruenhagen used a procedural tactic to push his own agenda in the same-sex marriage debate. Because of these comments DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen has banned the practice of allowing lawmakers to publicly introduce guests on the floor.

House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt said he agrees with the ban. He says Gruenhagen’s comments were “inappropriate.”

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