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It’s time to move forward with gay-marriage legislation

Last session, along with several of my colleagues, I introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriages in Minnesota. Now we are asking for a hearing on the legislation in the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 2009 legislative session.

Minnesota’s law prohibits gays and lesbians from marrying the person they love. Our legislation would repeal that prohibition and extend equal marriage rights to all people regardless of sexual orientation.

This effort is made with no illusion about the difficulty of passing the legislation. In the November election, several states passed voter initiatives banning same-sex marriages. California’s initiative actually took away the existing right for gay couples to marry.

But Minnesotans have a strong sense of fairness. Minnesotans are open to change when presented with new information.

Hearing could address misconceptions
Opponents have great fear and misunderstanding about gay marriage. A legislative committee hearing could begin to address those misconceptions. I am not asking for a hearing where we have hours of testimony from multiple speakers on each side, then a brief committee debate and vote.

Instead, let’s have a gay couple briefly tell their story. Have them talk about their love, the challenges they face as parents, the problems they encounter because they are not allowed to marry. Opponents would have equal time to voice their concerns.

Then, instead of a debate, the Judiciary Committee could break past the heated rhetoric on the issue with a candid discussion, conducted in a civil tone. Discussions help to inform and educate people. With all of the divisiveness over gay marriage, a civil discussion might bring people closer together.

If opponents say they worry that allowing same-sex couples to marry will hurt their own marriages, I’d like to ask them to tell us how. I’d really like to know whether they feel my marriage — Connie and I just celebrated our 28th anniversary — would hurt their marriage too. And if it does not, why a gay couple’s marriage would have any more impact on them than my marriage has had.

It’s because of faith, not in spite of it
If opponents say they believe gay marriage is sinful or morally wrong, I’d like to tell them why I, as a Christian, believe we should not just allow, but actually encourage gay couples to marry. It is because of my faith, not in spite of it, that I think we should promote marriage and work to strengthen families of gay couples as well as heterosexual couples.

The Judiciary Committee could talk about the coexistence of different religious beliefs in a democratic society. We could discuss how our nation has a proud history of protecting the right of religious liberty and freedom of conscience; how every individual is entitled to his or her beliefs and has the freedom to join a church that shares those views.

I would like to ask my colleagues who oppose this legislation why they consider it acceptable for Minnesota’s government to endorse their religious beliefs about gay marriage and enforce them over the religious beliefs that thousands of other Minnesotans have. Every member of the Senate took an oath of office to support the Constitution of the United States, and each of us understands that government should treat all people in a fair, non-discriminatory manner.

Opponents worry that their churches would be required to perform gay marriages. But we can reassure them that the freedom of religion that would allow gay marriages is the same freedom of religion that allows them to perform marriages only for couples they choose to marry. We could point to the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down laws prohibiting interracial marriage – a decision that was strongly opposed by many Christians at the time — and remind them that the churches objecting to those marriages have never been forced to solemnize them.

Time for Minnesota to look forward
A Senate hearing that confronts these issues with a civil discussion will not end all opposition to gay marriage, but it will help break down the misunderstandings that exist.

This may be the only legislative attempt to allow gay marriage in the Midwest, but it is time for Minnesota to look forward. California’s Prop 8 and other bans on gay marriage have been painful setbacks for people who want to marry the partner they love; couples who want nothing more than the same rights and responsibilities other married couples have. It’s time to show them that the people of Minnesota care about their families too.

Some may say that this legislation is premature. But how long is discrimination against gay couples acceptable? I’m confident that most Minnesotans, even those uncomfortable talking about homosexuality, will recognize the fundamental fairness of allowing every adult to choose his or her own marriage partner.

John Marty represents District 54 in the Minnesota Senate. This article originally appeared in To the Point!, an online newsletter published by the Apple Pie Alliance, which works to strengthen the democratic process and promote ethics and integrity in public service.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by John Olson on 12/04/2008 - 03:29 pm.

    Sorry Senator Marty. You have a large budget hole to fill. People are losing their jobs, homes, insurance, and so on. Deal with these first.

  2. Submitted by Sam Bergman on 12/04/2008 - 03:46 pm.

    Here’s why this is a terrible idea, and I say this as a gay man who supports marriage equality.

    In nearly every state where the whiff of legalization has materialized, opponents have quickly organized ballot measures to constitutionally prohibit gay marriage for all time. These measures are terribly, terribly difficult to undo. By my count, such measures have been on the ballot in 30 states. They have passed in every single case.

    All the available evidence says that the American public is not ready to accept gay marriage. But the same data says that a majority of Americans now support full legal rights for same-sex couples, including visitation, inheritance, and tax rights. So why waste the legislature’s time with a self-defeating measure that will likely lead to a constitutional prohibition, when you could instead move to grant gays and lesbians true equal rights under the law without messing with the dreaded “M-word?”

    Taking a quixotic stand just to make a point is silly. Give us real change, even if it has to be a partial victory for the time being.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/04/2008 - 05:27 pm.

    Worst economic disaster in 30 years; $6 Bil state deficit; thousands of jobs vaporized…..sure, why not.

    Let’s just drop everything and start up again with the sand is food argument, and better yet, why not start by insulting the intelligence of the majority of the people of the state of Minnesota “Opponents have great fear and misunderstanding about gay marriage.”

    Anyone got an aspirin?

  4. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 12/05/2008 - 08:26 am.

    Please Mr. Marty, have the DFL make gay marriage an election issue! Please…

  5. Submitted by Marsicano Marsicano on 12/05/2008 - 12:15 pm.

    At OutFront Minnesota, we are working on several legislative strategies dependent on grassroots organizing on behalf of marriage and other issues to help bring dignity, respect and equality for all GLBT people in the state. Grassroots organizing is essential because lawmakers will vote for initiatives supported by their constituents – they won’t support bills that they believe most of their constituents oppose or are apathetic toward.

    Organizing GLBT equality supporters and helping to influence those who are not yet with us but are persuadable will be vital. Additionally, the organizing allows GLBT equality supporters to talk about how to stop the discrimination GLBT people and their families face in Minnesota.

    The hearing proposed by Senator Marty could help illuminate the discrimination same-sex couples and their children face in Minnesota because they have no legal protections. We know that marriage and curbing the yearly increases of hate crimes against GLBT people is still a way off in Minnesota, but that working from International Falls to Austin and everywhere in between to promote GLBT equality will lead us toward victory. We need each and every support of GLBT equality to step up and become active in moving the movement along in our state. This effort needs to be done in ways that unite us all and bring out the best in all Minnesotans.

    Let’s create the vision, articulate the dreams for a better tomorrow and create the path to get us there.

  6. Submitted by Rachel Munoz on 12/09/2008 - 12:58 pm.

    It’s time to move forward on a marriage amendment that would insure marriage in Minnesota is between one man and one woman. You may not think it will effect your marriage, it does effect society as a whole and the children that are raised in these circumstances. And save your argument that heterosexual marriages are in rough shape. You don’t lower the standard because people don’t live up to it!

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/09/2008 - 04:17 pm.

    Well said, Rachel.

  8. Submitted by Ang Dezelske on 12/16/2008 - 10:17 am.

    Allowing homosexual couples to marry is lowering the standards of marriage? I think I threw up in my mouth a little.

    “You may not think it will effect your marriage, it does effect society as a whole and the children that are raised in these circumstances.”

    Don’t speak for “society as a whole”, thank you. You may believe this affects you, and that’s your right to believe that, but don’t speak for all of society unless you have concrete data to back that up, and I do not mean one or two bits of anecdotal evidence. Your personal disgust with something that would have no bearing on the way you live your life does not does not mean that everyone shares your opinion.

  9. Submitted by Cat Collins on 02/21/2009 - 03:47 am.

    I want to thank Senator Marty for his work and commend him for getting the ball rolling.

    I believe in legalizing gay marriage because not doing so is preventing a civil right based entirely on a person’s sexuality, which is blatantly unConstitutional. All US citizens should be granted the same rights as all other US citizens.

    That Minnesota is finally gaining enough momentum to address this injustice is a wonderful sign that our state is yet again in the forefront of calling for justice in our nation.

    I am proud that the issue is being addressed in our political arenas and hope that legislation is passed in favor of Sen. Marty’s ideas.

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