Everywhere you go at the state Capitol these days the talk is of the budget, the economic crisis and then the budget again.
So when Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, speaks at a “Freedom to Marry Day Rally” Thursday afternoon, he’s going to put the subject of same-sex marriage into economic terms.
“Why in these hard times would you stand on the necks of couples?” he will ask.
Like most of those organizations supporting the rally, Dibble knows that his words likely will only echo through Capitol hallways this session. And probably the next. Even though Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, has introduced legislation, the Marriage and Family Protection Act, that would “neutralize” all gender terms in state marriage laws, effectively legalizing gay marriage, few expect that legislation to make any progress this year.
Even the Minnesota Family Council, the state’s most strident foe of gay marriage, isn’t expecting a serious push for gay marriage in the current session.
“I suspect the legislative leadership is focused on the budget,” said Tom Pritchard, the president of the Family Council.
Marriage equality is so under the radar that Pritchard wasn’t even aware of Thursday’s rally until receiving a call from a MinnPost reporter.
“What time is that going to be?” he asked.
The answer is 2:30 p.m. The rally at the Capitol, perhaps the first of its kind, is part of “Freedom to Marry Week,” a national campaign pushing marriage equality. The rally matters, organizers say, despite the long odds against change in law this year.
“We need to keep the conversation going,” said Monica Meyers, public policy director for OutFront Minnesota, a gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender organization which is among the organizers of the rally.
Meyers is bluntly honest about the current political climate.
“I don’t see [Marty’s legislation] going anywhere this year,” she said.
And even if it would miraculously get through the process, it surely would be vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who last year saddened GLBTers and their supporters when he vetoed a simple, clean bill that would have allowed local governments to offer benefits, such as health insurance, as they saw fit. This would have allowed cities, for example, to offer health insurance to same sex couples.
The legislation — that had bipartisan support in the House and Senate — was endorsed by such organizations as the League of Cities and was sailing smoothly until it arrived on the governor’s desk.
“We know where we stand with this governor,” said Meyers.
But that doesn’t mean the rally doesn’t serve a purpose. The more people talk about the idea of what marriage means, the more comfortable they become with same-sex marriages, she said.
Dibble, who is gay, shares that belief. He also believes that attitudes throughout the state are steadily changing and that the economic climate should make people even more empathetic toward same-sex marriage.
“There are all kinds of families struggling,” he said. “We have people who come together in love, step up to be counted, take on responsibilities of any other family. Why does the state make things harder for them? Why all the hullabaloo?”
Ultimately, he said, same-sex marriage fits in the context of a year when so much legislative focus is on the state’s budget.
“What is the budget other than a statement of our values,” he said.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.