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Passing the marriage amendment would unravel the core fiber of Minnesota’s civil compact

CC/Flickr/J. Stephen Conn
It would break my heart to think of my new home, the L'Etoile du Nord, as a place that does not live out its promise as the state leading and representing the home and the way of freedom.

On a sweltering New Orleans Thursday in July, my wife and three kids and I finished the last bit of loading our moving vans (we drove them ourselves) and traveled exactly 1,350 miles north, or just up river, to make our new home in Minneapolis. It was difficult to leave the Crescent City, the fun-loving people, the amazing food, and the thriving music scene. But we were ready for the new opportunities, to appreciate the Nordic influence, here on the edge of the prairie.

Rev. G. Travis Norvell
Rev. G. Travis Norvell

Like most Americans not from the Upper Midwest, I could fit all I knew about Minnesota on the front side of a 3-by-5 card: that it was way up there, snowed all the time, and everyone looked like they could have or did play for the Vikings. After we arrived here and began to see this wonderful metro area on its own terms, surprises upon surprises were revealed: the amazing park system, the wide-ranging and safe bike trails, “you knows” heard in the Catholic liturgy, the all-you-can-drink milk barn at the State Fair, the ubiquity of bookshops, and the diverse span of humanity to name just a few. The biggest surprise, and disappointment, however, has been the proposed amendment to concretize into the state’s constitution the definition of marriage solely as between one man and one woman.

I came here to accept the call to be the pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in South Minneapolis. Judson is a community that is part of the progressive Baptist tradition, which Minnesota uniquely exemplifies. Names like Justin Wroe Nixon, Edwin T. Dahlberg, Harold Stassen, and Harriet Bishop may not be household names for most, but to progressive/liberal Baptists they are all-stars. I knew there had to be something in the water and the communities that cultivated and nurtured their particular type of religious courage, conviction and freedom. I wanted to be part of that tradition and to help define it for a new generation. I had hoped that tradition was alive and well, so when I read about the amendment my heart was crushed. I am confident the particular spirit is still alive in Minnesotans; I pray it is awake and not slumbering.

The language and determination of the amendment is that of our brothers and sisters “down river,” not what I expected from the North Star State. I have lived in the South and in areas of Appalachia where gay and lesbian friends and parishioners have had to either move elsewhere to live in the safety of progressive communities or had to choose to stay put and live a life of secrecy and second-class existence. One same-sex couple in particular, when visiting their parents in the South, wait to get out of the car until the garage door closes in fear of being seen and later ridiculed or even attacked by neighbors. My family and I chose not to live in those kinds of communities. We want to be in a community where we can be ourselves, where others can be themselves, and where we can all live in a free society — one that this state in particular manifests.

Passing the marriage amendment would unravel the core fiber of the civil compact this state represents. It would break my heart to think of my new home, the L’Etoile du Nord, as a place that does not live out its promise as the state leading and representing the home and the way of freedom.

The Rev. G. Travis Norvell is the pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Minneapolis.


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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/19/2012 - 06:35 am.

    Thanks, Rev. Norvell

    For reminding us what the Minnesota stands for.

    Sadly, when Gov. Wendy Anderson appeared on the cover of Time Magazine with a caption about “The State that Works,” i.e. a prosperous state with good government, good progressive morals, good, neighborly attitudes, and a high level of caring about those less fortunate than ourselves,…

    the forces of evil: the selfish and and self-serving saw, not something to celebrate, but something to be Bain Capitalized – taken over, stripped of its assets, then cast aside as they moved on, like a plague of locusts, to work their evil in some newly-targeted location.

    These folks were able to do their evil by taking over the Republican Party using the false banner of “conservative moral values.” They drew into the party all those who had a dysfunctional fear of change: those most likely to turn into angry bullies when their motives and methods were questioned by the “Minnesota nice” moderates who were formerly in charge.

    The culmination of their efforts has been our past legislative session wherein the Republican legislative leaders publicly revealed their inability to live up to the moral code they had long held up for others, wherein a segment of the Republican leadership that had been cast aside by the angry newbies used that crisis to seize power for themselves,…

    and the Republicans in the legislature turned themselves into a blind, deaf, unthinking brick wall opposed to any and all attempts to undo the damage that had been done under that friend of massively-overpaid wealthy bankers everywhere (by whom he’s now being rewarded by serving as their spokesmodel with a seven-figure salary), former Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

    The ONLY thing the Republicans in the legislature managed to accomplish this session, other than embarrassing themselves and the rest of us, is these two constitutional amendments, by which they hope to drive enough of their dysfonic devotés to the polls to allow them to continue to tear our state apart.

    I’m hoping that those of us who are TRUE Minnesotans will finally turn these people out of office, drive those among their wealthy supporters, who bristle at being asked to pay their fair share to support state services, to leave the state, by raising their taxes (we’ll do far better without such people),…

    and return our state to the caring, egalitarian, progressive community values that you expected to find when you arrived here.

    Those values actually still exist. They are strong. They are what makes Minnesota, Minnesota.

    Only by defeating both of the current amendments and casting out of office those who put them on the ballot in the first place will we who are TRUE Minnesotans be able to begin to return our state to what is has been and what it SHOULD be, once again.

  2. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 10/19/2012 - 08:51 am.


    Glad to have you in Minnesota hope your family has warm coats and Vote NO signs. Since you’ve found your way to the Fair, I trust you have also learned where your polling place is and are aware even if you’re not registered yet, you can STILL register on Election Day.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 10/19/2012 - 09:58 am.


      I echo Beth-Ann. Welcome! This amendment is truly a bad moment in Minnesota history. But there are lots of us that hope we still embody what it is to be Minnesotan. I am not a native, but from a neighboring state. I love my home state, but I feel like I belong here.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/19/2012 - 09:02 am.

    Welcome to Minnesota Rev. Norvell

    From your South Minneapolis vantage point, you might have come to believe that Minnesotans are one big congregation of the church of moral relativity (aka Run What Ya Brung), but it’s not so.

    The vast majority of citizens anchor their morality in the common sense tradition found everywhere outside leftist enclaves like Minneapolis, as the results of this excersize in Democracy will prove.

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/19/2012 - 03:32 pm.

      I am always amused when right wingers

      disparage South Minneapolis. Bradlee Dean once complained that South Minneapolis seemed like Mogadishu when he visited us in search of some special hot sauce, that is apparently unavailable in the wilds of Annandale.

      I was once in my local grocery store, the Rainbow on Lake Street, when some poor lost white dude was on his cell asking “duh” wife what to buy since he was lost in our “Ghetto Rainbow.”

      The Lake Street Rainbow is actually a great store that stocks all sorts of ethnic foods: Thai, Chinese, Mexican, you name it. Food in bulk and an economic alternative to Lunds. A great place to shop.

      South Minneapolis is hardly Mogadishu or a “liberal enclave.” It is a wonderfully diverse area whose residents are an important part of the future of our state. Go over to the U of M where the very well dressed Somali women are easy to spot. The guys are harder to identify but many of them are in engineering. Other recent immigrants, e.g. Hmong, Vienamese, Nigerians, have already made serious inroads at the U.

  4. Submitted by rolf westgard on 10/19/2012 - 10:04 am.


    To Rev Norvell.

  5. Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/19/2012 - 12:15 pm.


    I don’t recall living in the “leftist enclave” of Minneapolis. I even grew up in rural Wisconsin, in a town smaller than most metro high schools. Fear not Reverend, even the small town folks know discrimination when they see it. Despite the commentary from the loud minority, the rest of us, the more rational ones, will be sure to ensure the ideals you came here looking for will remain this state’s calling card in perpetuity.

  6. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/19/2012 - 01:45 pm.

    Welcome, Rev. Norvell

    Minnesota is a wonderful place to raise a family.

    We have straight and gay couples and families in abundance. The overall tolerance of Minnesotans will stand us in good stead as we make progress toward total acceptance of gay families.

    This process will no doubt be accelerated as cases bubble to the surface at the Supreme Court. There is little doubt that gay marriage will be legal throughout the US in the near future, just as it is in our good neighbor to the North, Canada, and in a growing number of US states.

    Unfortunately, we do have some close minded right wing types. But we also have many decent Republicans – some of them even support voting No on the Marriage Amendment.

    The few right wingers we have are very vociferous. But do not be misled by the volume of their venom. A careful reading of almost any MinnPost article will give you a good idea of how few of them there actually are.


    • Submitted by Virginia Martin on 10/19/2012 - 08:27 pm.

      the world is shifting

      and a lot of people seem to be dragging their feet and even trying to drag us all back into the 16th or 17th centuries. The attitudes on gays and lesbians has shifted about 175 degrees to the — not a “left” side, but a compassionate and common sense side. It’s moving so fast that the republicans will be trying to catch up for years. We will have much to unravel and redo. These old white guys are trying to put an obstacle in the way for a change in our marriage laws.
      Two questions: why is this a “religious” or “moral” or whatever campaign. It’s not a moral issue to me. It’s personal and there is no reason for government to be in the way at all.
      The other is–why is there such an enormous push, across the country, to keep marriage only between one man and one woman? Why is the Catholic church funding it so heavily (against the laws) and what financial benefits does it bring to the Catholic church? Getting conservatives to the polls to vote yes benefits whom?
      Why isn’t the church putting this money into their longtime social justice work? Think what it could do. This is a huge waste of money, on both sides. I think THAT’S immoral!

    • Submitted by Virginia Martin on 10/19/2012 - 08:31 pm.

      few of them

      And getting smaller by the minute. I think when this amendment fails, it will be the last big effort of the church and the fundamentalists. They will get increasingly irrelevant after that.
      I go to church regularly and have a well-thought out moral code, shared by millions. It does not include hating gays and lesbians.

  7. Submitted by rolf westgard on 10/21/2012 - 04:37 am.

    Separating church and state

    Regarding the effort of some religious leaders to influence our vote
    on the Marriage Amendment, there is an interesting quote from Barry
    Goldwater, a conservative Republican. “Mark my word,” he said. “If
    and when these preachers get control of the Republican party, and
    they’re sure trying to do so, it going to be a terrible problem.
    Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand
    compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name
    of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal
    with them.”

  8. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/30/2012 - 12:50 pm.

    Passing the marriage amendment would unravel the core fiber?

    Rev. G. Travis Norell never makes a case for his thesis statement, “Passing the marriage amendment would unravel the core fiber of Minnesota’s civil compact”.

    On the contrary, the marriage amendment seeks to protect the marriage laws that have been on the books since Minnesota was a territory; those laws are our civil compact.

    • Submitted by Anita Cage on 10/31/2012 - 12:18 pm.

      “Protect” the marriage laws?

      If these laws have been on the books since Minnesota was a territory and are the civil contract, why is amending them necessary unless to add language that steers the interpretation to preclude liberal reading? If that is defensible, then adding language that steers the interpretation in a different direction is also defensible.

      Your argument seems to be simply that this amendment seeks to change the law to explicitly state what some people want the law to be rather than what is has been since Minnesota was a territory. Therefore, by your words, far from protecting the law, this amendment seeks to limit and change the law, excluding people some prefer to exclude.

      This exclusion and disenfranchisement is the purpose of the law. It is a sad step backward when bigotry is put forward as protection to be encoded into law.

  9. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/31/2012 - 05:14 pm.

    It is readily apparent why it is necessary, if you look around.

    In Iowa, the will of the people was circumvented by their state supreme court.

    In November 2010, Iowans ousted all three justices on the ballot, including the chief justice. We don’t have that power in Minnesota, but we do have the power to amend our constitution.

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