ST. PAUL (AP) - A Minnesota Senate committee has passed a bill to prohibit lawyers from dismissing potential jurors based solely on their sexual orientation or marital status.

The Senate Judiciary Committee backed the bill Tuesday on a split voice vote. Several Republican senators questioned whether such discrimination actually occurs in Minnesota courts.

The bill's sponsor, Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble, says it simply adds to a list of protected categories that includes race, color, religion, sex, national origin and economic status. Dibble and OutFront Minnesota say there have been accusations of jury selection bias based on homosexuality in Minnesota.

Republican Sen. Warren Limmer questioned whether the bill could be a vehicle to force a Senate floor vote on legalizing gay marriage, which is expected to be a big issue later this session. But Dibble said he intends to proceed on that issue separately.

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