As same-sex marriage nears vote in Legislature, Minnesotans weigh in

Same-sex marriage supporters
Supporters of same-sex marriage at the State Capitol in February. Many respondents who favor marriage for same-sex couples feel strongly that the state has had more than enough conversation on the topic, while opponents tend to think there hasn't been enough discussion of what it would mean.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage has been scheduled for a floor vote in the Minnesota House on Thursday. MPR News asked members of our Public Insight Network if they feel the state has engaged in enough of a conversation about marriage. We received more than 150 responses.

Many respondents who favor marriage for same-sex couples feel strongly that the state has had more than enough conversation on the topic, while opponents tend to think there hasn't been enough discussion of what it would mean.

"We have asked our LGBT fellow citizens to stand for over a year of very personal examination of their lives," wrote Beth-Ann Bloom of Woodbury, who supports same-sex marriage. "No deficits have been found that should make them any less entitled to equal protection of the law than the rest of us in the land of 10,000 lakes."

MORE COVERAGE
Today's Question: Is now the time to redefine marriage?
Story: House vote on marriage bill set for Thursday
Deep roots: History of marriage debate in Minn.
Marriage amendment: How it was defeated in 2012
Map: How Minnesotans voted for the marriage amendment

Barbara Crow of Duluth agreed with Bloom that the 18-month debate over marriage that led up to the constitutional amendment vote last November was plenty.

"We've been talking about it non-stop for two years," said Crow. "Those who are vehemently opposed at this point will not change. Those that are 'uncomfortable' will adjust."

Supporters said "more discussion" was code for delaying a vote.

Same-sex marriage opponents
John Helmberger, Minnesota for Marraige chairman, spoke to a room of marriage amendment supporters at the Embassy Suites in Bloomington, Minn. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.
Caroline Yang for MPR

"I don't think equality should take a back seat until people feel talked out or comfortable," wrote Greg Leatherman, a gay man from Minneapolis who's been in a same-sex relationship for 20 years. "I would love for people to be 100% behind it, but our leaders should lead and do the right thing for all American citizens."

Yet some opponents of same-sex marriage don't think there's been a good conversation about changing the law about marriage.

"Legalized 'Gay Marriage' is a new thing. Cell phones have been around a lot longer."

"This is [a] highly polarized issue and I feel warrants a full discussion that highlights all of the downstream effects that would occur if same-sex marriage were legalized," wrote Aaron Norman of Rochester. In particular, Norman is concerned about possible repercussions for churches that won't perform same-sex weddings. The proposed bill includes exemptions for religious organizations.

While fewer opponents of gay marriage responded to MPR's query, those who did were adamant that the time is not right to allow same-sex couples to marry.

"Legalized 'Gay Marriage' is a new thing. Cell phones have been around a lot longer," wrote Jon Henson, of St. Cloud. "To suddenly change the way marriage has been defined since the beginnings of time just because being 'gay' is the cool thing to do is playing with our entire culture." Henson continued, "I don't want my children growing up in a society that is so 'tolerant' of everything that it can't stand up for individual values and beliefs."

As for conversation, same-sex marriage opponent Mark Hayes of Buffalo had another take. "There should never have been a conversation in the first place," wrote Hayes. "No empire of the past withstood the erosion of the family unit." When asked what he's doing to lobby for the bill's defeat, Hayes wrote, "Praying."

EXPRESSING VIEWS DEEPENS OPINIONS

Two members of our Public Insight Network who participated in our video series on the marriage amendment wrote in with updates.

In Karen Wills' video, the Bloomington resident described growing up as a daughter of a father who came out as gay. Wills opposed the amendment.

In our recent query, Wills reflected on the extra scrutiny families like hers have received during this debate. "There definitely is a lot of pressure on children of gay parents to look 'perfect' rather than just being ordinary people as we all are," she wrote. The experience of making the video with MPR led her to take a more active role, testifying before the House Civil Law committee at the Legislature, and doing other outreach and inclusion work.

Roger O'Daniel of Minneapolis also made a video for the MPR series. O'Daniel described his support for the amendment based on his religious views.

O'Daniel remains a steadfast opponent of same-sex marriage. He wrote, "People are thinking emotionally, not logically. They do not see through the motives and strategy behind this and its awful consequences. Polygamy is the next step."

O'Daniel described how the marriage debate escalated in his Catholic church, and led to a run-in that ended with a parishioner leaving the church. "The atheists want to destroy the family unit for child rearing," wrote O'Daniel.

THE MEANING OF THE MARRIAGE AMENDMENT DEFEAT

They need to realize that people were not voting 'for' counterfeit marriage.

Not surprisingly, respondents disagreed on how to read the defeat of the marriage amendment.

"Obviously the DFL thought the amendment defeat by a percent or so gave them a huge mandate to rip up Minnesota's social fabric," wrote Ed Armbruster of Rochester, who supported the amendment. "They need to realize that people were not voting 'for' counterfeit marriage, but simply did not like the vehicle of an amendment," wrote Armbruster.

Paul Conklin, of Solway, who opposed banning same-sex marriage in the state constitution, concedes folks like Armbruster may have a point. "I did quite a bit of phone calling to defeat the amendment, and I know that many who voted no did so because of a libertarian streak, or a feeling that it didn't belong in the constitution. I don't think we can say that everyone who voted no supports full marriage for same sex couples." Conklin says he'd like the state to get out of the marriage business altogether and grant civil unions instead.

Emily Ronning had a different take-away. Ronning estimated she spent 150 hours making phone calls to defeat the amendment. She observed, "People were rarely against the amendment but ALSO against gay marriage." Her takeaway? "Minnesota is ready."

WHEN IT'S PERSONAL

"When our daughter came out to us, I realized I was the problem. Not 'them.'"

MPR News asked respondents how their views on same-sex marriage have changed over time, and many straight respondents described how a gay or lesbian friend or family member influenced their views.

"When I realized how little I knew about homosexuality, when our daughter came out to us, I realized I was the problem. Not 'them," wrote Janet Guetschow of Minnetonka. She became active in her church to promote inclusive policies. "This issue can be talked to death, and until people realize it is personal, and know someone who has been discriminated against, they will always vote against change," wrote Guetschow.

Amy Tremain of Rochester disagreed. Tremain said she has some close friends who are gay, and she still opposes same-sex marriage. "I am concerned about the already weakened family structure and same-sex marriage will add another reason to believe moms and dads do not need to be united as they raise the next generation," said Tremain. "People who do not support SSM [same-sex marriage] are consistently portrayed as 'phobic' or hateful. I believe we are circumspect, and dismissed by the general media," she wrote.

Several respondents who identified as gay or lesbian wrote to say the debate had changed their own feelings about marriage.

Greg Krausert of Rochester, a gay man, didn't think having the right to marry mattered. "Then my partner of 15 years had a heart attack. We were living in San Diego, CA at the time and both our families were still in Minnesota. I was the only person of his family near him. However, since I wasn't legally family, I was not allowed into ICU until I got his family on my phone." The experience got Krausert thinking about the inequality his relationship faced, and the protection that marriage would afford.

METRO VS. OUT-STATE MINNESOTA

Support for the marriage amendment was strongest in greater Minnesota and the area continues to be a battleground for lawmakers' votes.

"I have become a hardened opponent," wrote Steve Davis of Marshall. "Two years ago I would have favored civil unions (the view of Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, for instance). Since then it has become clear that the gay lobby will use whatever means to get what they want," wrote Davis.

Rebecca Murray of Rochester, who voted no on the amendment but is not sure she supports same sex marriage, wrote, "I confess that my fear is that the issue isn't going to stop with the recognition of same-sex marriage." Murray said she doesn't want the traditional, nuclear family to come under attack.

But Evan Hazard of Bemidji said he's skeptical when he reads letters to the editor in his local paper, the Bemidji Pioneer, proclaiming "God's will." Of his own views, Hazard wrote,"I'm 83. They've changed a lot, mostly from meeting same-sex oriented people as individuals, and hetero couples with LGBT children. Turns out they're all much like other people."

Hazard put it in even more personal terms.

"Nobody should be denied access to their significant other. Marriage should be a civil right."

"When my wife was mortally ill, I had no hurdles to jump in order to be with her. Nobody should be denied access to their significant other. Marriage should be a civil right," he said.

Nashwauk resident Robert Warmuth resists the characterization that everyone outside the Twin Cities opposes same-sex marriage. Warmuth, a supporter of marriage for same-sex couples, wrote, "I have always felt this way, but in the past it was not politically correct or 'safe' to share my views." Warmuth noted a recent big ad in his local paper urging residents to call their lawmakers opposing the bill. "The conservatives are trying to make this a metro versus rural issue," he wrote. "They are trying to say only Msp [the metro] is for same-sex marriage and that they are forcing their views in the rest of Minnesota."

Carol Ford, of Milan, another supporter of same-sex marriage, sometimes feels a little ignored by her own side.

"I live out in the sticks where organizers tend to think they have us all pigeon-holed as a bastion of conservative religious and political rubes," Ford said. "They seem more focused on rallying the troops in urban and suburban areas, so let them do that."

Ford says she does what she can to promote civil and productive conversation in her community.

"You have to be prepared to listen even when you don't agree so you can respond with compassion and insight. When that doesn't work, you just outlive the stubborn old farts and make change after the memorial lunch in the church basement," she said.

LAWMAKERS GET AN EARFUL

Many people who responded to MPR's query said they had contacted their representatives at the Capitol.

Patricia Braga, of Rochester, a supporter of the bill, said she wants lawmakers to be bold.

"There may be repercussions at the polls in 2014, but legalizing same-gender marriage is important and it's not fair to make folks wait even longer for their rights," she wrote.

Another respondent, Eileen Scallen,whom we wrote about in 2011, sounded a note of caution.

Scallen, of Minneapolis, has been in a committed same-sex relationship for more than a decade, said she's not sure if Minnesotans are ready to make same-sex marriage legal.

Eileen Scallan and Marianne Norris
Eileen Scallan and Marianne Norris together on their front porch. Scallan wonders whether the loyalty of her siblings will be tested by a proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment that would define marriage as only being between a man and woman.
MPR Photo/Sasha Aslanian

"I think the legislation needed to be introduced this session to, 'keep the conversation going," wrote Scallen. "But I'm not sure a vote at this point would be helpful--it could spark a backlash that sets equality back, even if it is successful. I think I would prefer to see a vote next session, after the pro-equality campaign has had a chance to do more education."

Kristen Allen, of New London, said she'd love to have an actual conversation, but finds people's views are so entrenched, that what passes for dialogue is actually "a bunch of monologues with no listening."

Allen confessed she's guilty of it herself.

"I do not wish to listen to someone tell me why they see homosexuality as wrong or that same-sex marriage as a threat to marriage and family. Especially if they cloak it in religious bias -- and I am a practicing Lutheran with my own faith-based beliefs," Allen said. "I am therefore guilty: I have no time for goofballs with closed minds. I guess as long as the vote matches what I believe, I do not wish to fight. Just let it be legal."

On the other side, Tom Markham, of Fridley, an opponent of same-sex marriage, sees the issue beyond the political plain entirely.

"I encourage people to read the Bible for themselves," wrote Markham. "We cannot legislate morality. It has to be a choice that we make as individuals."

Whatever happens, several gay and lesbian respondents wrote in to describe a new-found sense of hope the debate has given them.

"I am heartened that there seems to be genuine evolution on the marriage issue thanks to increased visibility and conversation about why marriage is important to individuals, family, and society,"wrote Erin Keyes, of St. Louis Park. "I did not expect to be feeling as hopeful about marriage equality as I now do."

Regardless of whether the bill passes or fails, many respondents expect the conversation about same-sex marriage in Minnesota -- whether they want it or not -- will continue.

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