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Brett Stevens: Lavender magazine columnist riles gay activists by pushing for civil unions

Brett Stevens
Brett Stevens

Brett Stevens, a paralegal with a Twin Cities law firm and a columnist for Lavender magazine, has riled supporters of gay marriage.

Stevens is gay, and he and his partner celebrated the 15th anniversary of their relationship this year. In his columns and in testimony at legislative committee hearings on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota, Stevens has urged lawmakers to consider civil unions as an alternative.

In an interview with MinnPost, Stevens argues that despite the defeat of the proposed marriage amendment last fall, same-sex marriage is a step too far for too many legislators. He fears that without an effort to push for civil unions, gay couples will still find themselves unprotected by state law when this legislative session is over.

MinnPost: Do you in principle support marriage for same-sex couples?

Brett Stevens: Absolutely.  I have been advocating for it for a long, long time. If same sex marriage happens, I‘ll be very, very happy.  I’m just afraid it simply will not.

MP: What makes you believe the current bill to legalize same-sex marriage will fail?

Stevens: I don’t think it can get the votes in the House. It doesn’t have the votes at this point, and I don’t think it’s going to pass. 

Immediately after the defeat of the marriage amendment, I believed there would be some movement toward getting recognition for our relationships. [Then] Minnesota United came out and said they were going to fight for marriage equality and marriage equality only. And I support it. I support the marriage equality idea, but I also am seeing the political side. There just doesn’t seem to be the votes. The rural DFL don’t appear to be interested in voting for this and the Republicans are not interested in crossing to vote for it either.

I looked at polls and I saw that civil unions are overwhelmingly popular. So what I have been doing is, I have been trying to open up the conversation so if same sex-marriage doesn’t pass, that there’s something else that would recognize my relationship.

MP: Why should gay couples accept the lesser status of a civil union?

Stevens: This is a serious issue that matters to people right now. Here’s one example of why we need something done now. I did an interview with an attorney and he said there were people going off and getting married in Canada or in Iowa. They’re coming back and living in Minnesota and then they realize that getting married was probably not a good idea. Well they can’t get a divorce in Minnesota because the courts don’t recognize it. And to get a divorce in Canada or in Iowa, there’s a residency requirement. So there are people actually right now living in a precarious situation that cannot find relief in the courts.

MP: What is your opinion of the civil union legislation offered by Republican Rep. Tim Kelly?

Stevens: I think it’s a good first step. The bill repeals the state DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act] law. It would allow the courts to recognize and deal with LGBT couple issues.

As far as I can tell from reading it, it appears to me it covers the same rights and the same obligations. And I think the obligations are important as well – for us to take care of each other. As far as I can tell, they’re the same except for the name.

MP: With so much movement in the U.S. and around the world toward acceptance of gay marriage, why do you think progressive Minnesota would be opposed?

Stevens: When I looked at the results of the election and I looked at the results from the marriage amendment and I saw the number of rural DFL legislators who were in districts where the marriage amendment passed, I am just concerned that they won’t be persuaded to vote for same sex marriage. And it looks like that is coming true. 

MP: In your columns, you’ve suggested the DFL isn’t addressing gay concerns strongly enough, that they take the gay community for granted. Why?

Stevens: They don’t just take us for granted, they use the gay community. We are a huge supplier of volunteers. We’re a huge supplier of money. They just consider us to be an incredibly reliable source of help in getting them elected. And then they turn around and after the election, and say we’re not going to use our political capital on that.

MP: But the DFL has put forward the gay-marriage legislation, over the objections of some of their leaders.

Stevens: I interviewed John Marty in early December, and he said he was going to introduce the bill the first day of session. Well it didn’t get introduced until February 28, and it’s the exact same bill that Marty had proposed before. It went to two committees and it passed through these two committees that didn’t have any rural DFL people on it. They were loaded committees and everyone knew they were going to pass.  

There’s no discussion going on about this issue, and that’s not the way to persuade people to change their minds.

MP: What have you heard from gay marriage supporters on the position you’ve taken?

Stevens: What I’ve heard from many gay people and many gay allies is that something should happen. We need something to happen. In fact, the reason I didn’t chicken out and I did go and testify before the House and the Senate committee hearings and said we need to introduce a compromise so we get something if same-sex marriage doesn’t pass – the reason I did was because I had people who told me that they want their relationships recognized. And I feel like no one is speaking for them.

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Comments (5)

False headline!

There was nothing in this interview that said activists are "riled." Is that just wishful thinking?

Well said

I think Brett is right. There has not been enough conversation about this. The move from opposing a constitutional amendment to legalizing gay marriage was too quick and too abrupt. People in conservative areas are mad about this. They think they have been lied to by Minnesota United. We should all consider that perhaps it is time to separate marriage and civil unions-leave marriages to the church or for any private ceremony and require all marriages to be civil unions-the same for everyone a bit like the French do but maybe without the two stops.

Progressive should think twice about this. Are you willing to cede control of the House of Representatives to republicans as very well could happen if rural DFL'ers are defeated. What then becomes of the poor, the disabled and the environment and all the things we care about? Gone and back in the shadows-all for a lack of patience.

The only disagreement I have with Brett is this: the only reason the vote is being put on this session is because of all the money promised if it gets done. I am not so sure-after marriage equality is passed I expect the gay population to become over time as divided politically as the rest of society. Short term gain for the DFL with no long term result SAND the gain may be only financial with a loss of the House in 2014.

Now I AM Riled

I would hope that the first rule of journalism is to get the facts right. Anyone who read the bill that Senator Marty introduced in the last legislature and the bill introduced on February 28th should be able to tell that they are not the same bill. Saying that they are exactly the same is just a falsehood. The statement by Ms. Bruccato that "the DFL has put forward the gay-marriage legislation, over the objections of some of their leaders" seems to ignore the fact that the legislation was co-sponsored in the Senate by a Republican. And what "leaders" objected?

Mr. Stevens always seems to attach some sort of mysterious negative reason that Senator Marty told him that he would introduce his bill and he didn't. Has he ever followed up to asked the Senator why he did not? Perhaps it was that "gay activists" worked with him to decide on a better approach and the best possible timing and bill and he agreed.

I suppose if I was a member of a political party that consistently denigrated my sexual orientation as a lifestyle, I might feel like I should only ask for a "second-class" designation for my relationship and advocate for that, but if I really wanted to have my relationship recognized as a marriage would I actually choose to testify AGAINST the marriage bill as part of coordinated effort led by the epitome of rational thought on marriage equality, the National Organization for Marriage? Mr. Stevens did.

Perhaps I would choose another approach if I thought this was the right time for marriage equality in Minnesota, despite it being a difficult effort to persuade a few legislators. What if I started an organization and brought to bear the same talented folks who successfully defeated the marriage amendment and added to the mix individuals associated with some national organizations that had experience in passing marriage equality legislation? Then I might raise some money, continue to have conversations with Minnesotans in an effort to change the minds of legislators by mobilizing their constituents. Perhaps then, despite opponents using Mr. Stevens as a shining example of loving same sex couples being content with having their relationships relegated to the unequal status of civil unions, I just might be successful in achieving true marriage equality.

Ah, but could Mr. Stevens, despite his strong credentials as a political columnist (he has, after all, been chosen by Lavender Magazine to pontificate frequently on why we must have civil unions), be wrong about whether the votes could actually exist for real marriage equality? I guess we will just have to wait and see as the process plays out over the next couple of weeks

Right on Tom

Perhaps if Mr Stevens had exerted any of his influence within the state GOP (see the True North blog for a list of his cohorts) he might have gotten even more Republicans on board with marriage equality. He could have used them instead of vice versa.

Gossip doesn't trump the truth...

What an interesting set of indictments Dr. Knabel and his cohorts at HRC have concocted. Of course his problem is the facts fly in the face of his accusations. Listen to my testimony. I don't say a single thing against same sex marriage. I argue FOR something and against doing nothing. This shows he doesn't have a firm grasp on the facts.

His insinuation I'm working with NOM is too hilarious to address but I will say one last thing.

Knabel also insinuates I'm someone who isn't really comfortable with my sexuality. To address this I ask three questions.

Would someone who is self loathing put their partner and their family in pictures like I did in "Our Family Albums?" Does a second class citizen get to speak before state house and senate committees asking for recognition of their relationship? Would someone who is uncomfortable with being gay publish a story about the joys of coming out?

Am I really the person Knabel and Pospisil are trying to say I am? Or are some people just trying to silence me? This isn't the first time they've tried this.