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Marriage equality: Legislators, stand on the right side of love — and of history

wittnebel portrait
Aaron Lee Wittnebel

LAKE PARK, Minn. — Late last year, the people of Minnesota turned down a constitutional amendment limiting the freedom to marry and, thanks in part to the amendment’s opponents, a new legislative majority was elected. Now, this new majority in the Minnesota Legislature has the ability to repeal an antiquated state law and ensure marriage equality for all Minnesotans. As the only openly gay mayor in Minnesota, having been born and raised in the town I represent in Greater Minnesota, I consider marriage equality important for me as a friend, a leader and a Minnesotan.

Growing up in my small rural town and attending our local Lutheran Church, I learned the value of commitment and family. Although I am not currently in a relationship, I was for some time. Michael and I had a great many plans for the one day that marriage equality would come to Minnesota.

We planned on getting married, raising a family, and living our lives together. He worked for Best Buy as a corporate buyer, and I worked as a staffer at the Minnesota Legislature during sessions and for Thomson West teaching high-school students. He enjoyed sports and music, and I enjoyed politics and movies, and we both enjoyed good food and humor.

Unfortunately, in 2006 Michael returned home from a business trip and passed away a few short months after his 30th birthday from meningitis. Thanks to Michael’s upbringing in a small rural town as well, with shared values of love, commitment and family, his family and I were able to make the arrangements that respected his wishes.

Law stands in the way of love

Sadly, this is not true for many same-sex couples throughout Minnesota who, without equality under the law, end up facing the nightmare of trying to honor their loved one's wishes on top of the tragedy of losing them. And unfortunately this is just one example where our law stands in the way of love. Not everyone is fortunate to have a family like Michael’s, and that’s one of many reasons marriage equality is so very important.

My friends, family and neighbors have all come a long way in their recognition that lesbians and gay men like me have the same values, hopes and aspirations as all other Minnesotans. We are your neighbors, your co-workers and friends, your brothers and sisters, and we believe in families just as you do. These are values shared across Minnesota from the metro to the rural areas of Greater Minnesota.

Marriage is a commitment, an aspiration, a bundle of hopes and disappointments. Marriage is full of lessons that amplify our personal, social and spiritual growth and fulfillment. There isn’t a need for a separate set of rules. Gays and lesbians don't need a special status. Minnesotans simply need to let committed same-sex couples share the same rules, same responsibilities, and same respect that everyone else enjoys.

Marriage says, 'We're family'

Everyone instantly understands that when a couple says, "We're married" that the statement is about more than just legal rights. It's about commitment, dedication, sacrifice and devotion. That's what makes marriage special. Marriage says, "We're family." It's the ultimate expression of love, commitment and responsibility.

This session, our legislators have the chance to correct the law in Minnesota to ensure equal protection for everyone who's made the ultimate commitment of love and family. Now is the time for Minnesota to recognize that we all share the same values of love and commitment when it comes to marriage. It's the right thing to do for our families, our communities and our state, and the time has come for equal protection under the law.  

I urge our Greater Minnesota legislators to stand on the side of equality, to stand on the side of love, to stand on the side of families, and to stand on the right side of history by supporting the freedom to marry.

Aaron Lee Wittnebel is the mayor of Lake Park, Minn. Outside of his mayoral duties and his day job with an area manufacturing company, he spends his time volunteering with several charitable community organizations.

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Comments (2)

"Marriage is About Family"

I'm sorry for the loss of Michael, but very happy that at the time of his passing his family enabled you to be involved in commemorating his life. As you know, far too often this is not the case.

Thanks for a well-written, carefully reasoned, emotionally affecting piece regarding marriage.

I wish you were right that marriage is about family, but in my experience, for far too many of our "conservative" friends and neighbors, marriage is far more (and far more unconsciously) about the reinforcement of old-fashioned, stereotypes of masculine and feminine, especially for those who have had to fight their own nature the hardest to fit those stereotypes.

For those whose whole sense of well being is tied up in their ability, no matter how uncomfortably, to ignore their own natures and shoehorn themselves into the acceptable definition held by their friends and neighbors for their own gender,...

the idea that society might come to accept people who have lived out their lives as the people God created them to be, even when God's creation of them took them well outside those old stereotypes is anathema. It threatens to make them feel as if they have been fools to work so hard to be the way they were taught they HAD to be in order to be lovable and acceptable.

Some its the loudest opponents will eventually feel quite liberated by the opening of marriage to include same-gender couples, but until then, they will fight mightily to have society continue to tell them that ONLY people who have done what they've done - ignored God in order to make the people around them and the leaders of their churches happy - are acceptable

Thank you

Mayor Wittnebel, thank you for so candidly telling the story of your love and your family. Minnesotans are good people who respect their neighbors. This should be the year that we make sure that our laws respect you too.