Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Marriage Equality in Minnesota

It’s been almost thirty-five years since I lived in Minneapolis, but it’s part of my heritage; my father was born and raised there, and I have a lot of great memories of the years I spent in grad school there at the University of Minnesota. Back then, in the mid-70’s, the state had a reputation of populist liberalism seasoned with the pragmatic decency of the rural parts of the state where live-and-let-live was the way you treated other people. The Democrats, known as the DFL for Democrat-Farmer-Labor party, gave the state people like Hubert Humphrey, who, before he became a senator and vice-president, was the mayor of Minneapolis. In 1948 he demanded that the Democrats make civil rights a forefront in their presidential campaign — and drove the Dixiecrats out. Minnesota was the home of Walter Mondale, Eugene McCarthy, and Paul Wellstone, and the state also led in the fight for decent healthcare for the poor and fairness for all people.

Minneapolis was also the city where I came out of the closet. Back in the 1970’s it was a very active city for gay rights and it had a thriving community, and not just among us theatre folk. Even though this was years before the AIDS epidemic, there were LGBT organizations that looked out for the health and well-being of gay citizens. In 1976, it seemed like Minnesota was the example for the rest of the country to follow in equality.

So I don’t know where Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and wingnut preachers like Bradlee Dean come from, and I don’t know what would lead the Republican-led state legislature to come up with something like this:

After a long, passionate and solemn debate that lasted deep into the night, the Minnesota House passed a proposed constitutional amendment on Saturday to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Voters will decide the question in November 2012. The final vote was 70-62. Four Republicans voted no. Two Democrats voted yes.

“I do not believe it is up to judges or even this body, but it should be up to Minnesotans,” said Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, sponsor of the bill. But he said his beliefs are not paramount: “It is not about what I think. It is about what we think as Minnesotans.”

In personal, sometimes tearful speeches, opponents said the amendment is wrong.

“Members, I understand discrimination. I have experienced discrimination. And have felt discrimination,” said Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, who often holds his microphone in a shrunken hand. “If you think there is a tiny bit of discrimination in this amendment, I beg you, I ask you, I implore you to vote no.”

The amendment question will set off multimillion-dollar campaigns from both sides. It also is expected to draw in national donors, operatives and attention, as did campaigns in several dozen other states that have voted on the issue.

Minnesota law already bans gay marriage, but backers of the proposal say only a constitutional amendment could keep courts from deciding the issue. An amendment also works around DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who said he opposes it with “every fiber” of his being. Governors have no veto over constitutional amendments passed by a legislative majority.

If certain other states where I’ve lived have set examples for crazy politicians and in-the-pocket legislatures and held patents on wingnutty preachers — hello Colorado and Florida — it’s not that much of a surprise; there have always been sharp political divisions in those states and the scales tilt back and forth. (Florida, though, is taking its own sweet time to get back to normal.) But Minnesota… practical, pragmatic, fair, friendly — there’s something bonding about enjoying a quiet evening at home when it’s -35F or sailing on Lake Minnetonka and battling the mosquitoes; what was it that drove it off the rails?

Footnote: One thing Minnesotans are famous for is their dry sense of humor — maybe that’s where I get mine. When Tim Pawlenty, the state’s former governor, announced he was running for president yesterday, the St. Paul Pioneer Press ran the news on the obituary page.