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House passes plan to put ‘Minnesota Equal Rights Amendment’ to voters in 2026

Supporters of a proposed equal rights constitutional amendment gather in front of the House Chamber Friday in anticipation of a floor vote on the bill later in the day. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)
Supporters of a proposed equal rights constitutional amendment gather in front of the House Chamber Friday in anticipation of a floor vote on the bill later in the day. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)

— UPDATED with Friday and Saturday discussion, Sunday vote

A state constitution contains basic principles that preside over a state, including its governmental powers and the guaranteed rights of its citizens.

Minnesota’s governing document could have a new provision come 2027.

Passed 68-62 early Sunday by the House, and sent to the Senate, HF173/SF37* would ask voters at the 2026 general election if the state constitution should be amended to codify the right to equality. No Senate vote was taken before session ended.

House Floor Session 5/18/24 - Part 5

The “Minnesota Equal Rights Amendment” ballot question would be: "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to say that all persons shall be guaranteed equal rights under the laws of this state, and shall not be discriminated against on account of race, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, or sex, including pregnancy, gender, and sexual orientation?”

Supporters say the change would ensure such protections cannot be taken away, no matter which party is in charge or which judges are serving on the bench.

“We know that Minnesotans often believe that these already are protected. We have protections for many of these rights in statute. We have protections for many of these rights in federal constitutional law, but we do not have them explicitly guaranteed in our state constitution,” House Majority Leader Jamie Long (DFL-Mpls) said at a Monday DFL news conference, hours before the House first planned to debate the bill.

Opponents of a proposed equal rights constitutional amendment, and a few supporters, gather in front of the House Chamber Saturday morning before the start of session. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)

When the bill was finally brought up Friday, opponents argued that everyone should be protected with equal standing, not picking what Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R-North Branch) called “winners and losers.” They also question the lack of transparency, especially when it comes to abortion, and, if the bill is such a DFL priority why it is coming up at the end of session rather than earlier.

Rep. Kaohly Vang Her (DFL-St. Paul), who sponsors the bill with Sen. Mary Kunesh (DFL-New Brighton), said the catalyst was the June 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion.

“A case that was as good as law to us was overturned and rights across the country were taken away from many, many individuals looking to make decisions for themselves for their bodily autonomy,” Her said. “Whether you're somebody who is looking for gender-affirming care or you were someone who was looking to have access to an abortion. We saw those rights being infringed upon.”

House Floor Session 5/18/24 - Part 3

Added Rep. Leigh Finke (DFL-St. Paul) at the Monday news conference: “We know how at-risk trans and gender expansive people are in this country and we have seen hundreds of people move to Minnesota in the last year because they are at risk, they are scared, and they are coming in today. With this ERA, the strongest ERA that any state will have passed, we are expressing our commitment to protecting the communities that we have promised to protect.”

During Friday’s debate, Republicans argued that everyone should be protected with equal standing.

Rep. Ben Davis (R-Merrifield) said the bill should be called “The Unequal Rights Amendment. … The Demuth amendment is truly an equal rights amendment.”

Unsuccessfully put forth by House Majority Leader Lisa Demuth (R-Cold Spring), it would create a general equal protection clause that would provide rights for all. It was voted down along party lines except for Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL-Aurora) voting in support.

“This amendment revises the constitutional amendment proposed in this bill to guarantee equal rights and freedom from discrimination for all members of our state, not just for a list of people chosen by politicians,” she said. “The amendment also clarifies that this new section of the constitution would apply only to actions taken by our state and its political subdivisions without ensnaring organizations or non-state entities simply receiving state funds or participating in state programs confused by the courts to be state actors.”

“This is our chance for equal rights for all … not deciding that some are more equal than others,” Neu Brindley said.

Her countered by saying: “I would love it if in general everybody could be protected. But the truth is that we know that there are individuals who are much more marginalized in this state and that those individuals must be specifically stated. Just like in Texas because abortion wasn't specifically stated they were able to overturn reproductive rights in that state. And so unless we stated explicitly in our constitution, rights will be rolled back.”


Minnesota House debate on SF37, a proposed equal rights constitutional amendment - Pt. 1 5/17/24

What’s next?

The Senate passed its version 43-23 in May 2023. It includes creed and age as reasons for which a person could not be discriminated against but lacks specific protections for pregnancy and gender-affirming care.

Until we see what the House passes, I can’t say if we will support it, Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) said Friday.

Long is optimistic a conference committee will not be needed.

“We made changes in response to things that the Senate had brought to us when it moved out of the rules committee to the language that is going to the [House] Floor today,” he said. “And so we believe that we've addressed a lot of the concerns that the Senate had brought before us and we're very optimistic that they'll be able to pass it as is.”

If the House and Senate can pass compromise language, the question would be on the ballot. Gubernatorial action is not required to put a proposed constitutional amendment before voters.

[MORE: Proposed constitutional amendments in state history]


House Floor Session 5/17/24 - Part 2

Abortion, religion

Bill opponents argue, in part, that the House language is a deceptive and vague way to enshrine the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution.

While the question would say “sex, including pregnancy, gender, and sexual orientation,” what would go into the constitution would be “… sex, including but not limited to: (i) making and effectuating decisions about all matters relating to one's own pregnancy or decision whether to become or remain pregnant; (ii) gender identity or gender expression; or (iii) sexual orientation.”

Officials of religious organizations have previously said the proposed constitutional amendment contains no reference to religion or creed, and, as such, religious liberties could be forced to take a backseat to other interests should the amendment be placed in the constitution.

An amendment offered by Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud) to restore “religion” to the ballot question were unsuccessful.  

“This is not equitable, this is not inclusion,” said Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) of religion’s absence.

House Floor Session 5/17/24 - Part 4

Her said religion receives higher protection in the Minnesota Constitution than provided in the U.S. Constitution.

“Religion hasn't been removed. … The preamble (to the Minnesota Constitution) very clearly states that religion is a really a part of our state and how we operate. In Article 1, Section 16 religion is still protected in there, and in Article 1, Section 17. None of that is getting struck out. So religion is still in there and religion still receives the highest level of scrutiny and protection.”

Among other amendments not adopted were ones to:


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