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Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt join marriage amendment battle after their soldier son’s death

Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt

Lori Wilfahrt can’t imagine what it will be like next November, after Minnesotans have gone to the polls and made a huge decision.

“I think about that,” Wilfahrt said. “I supposed we’ll both be just drained. I wonder, sometimes, if we’ll just be empty. I think sometimes that some of this is a big distraction from our pain.”

That unending pain is from the death of their son Andrew, who was killed in action in Afghanistan Feb. 27, 2011.

The distraction came only a couple of months later, when the Republican-led Minnesota Legislature passed the proposed constitutional amendment that would restrict marriage in Minnesota to a man and a woman.

Their son, a model soldier in every way, was gay.

The linking of his death and the amendment proposal has turned a private Rosemount couple into very public people.

Couple now nationwide gay-rights advocates

The two have become spokespeople for gay rights throughout the country. They’ve spoken from coast to coast, focusing especially on gays in the military.

“We’ve inherited about 70,000 gay children,” said Lori, warmly. “We can’t begin to tell you how much that means to us. Their hugs and support warm us.’’

Beyond that, Jeff has entered the race for the Minnesota House. He’s running as the DFL-endorsed candidate in District 37B in the Rosemount and Apple Valley area.

He was hoping that his opponent would be incumbent Republican Kurt Bills, who was among the Republicans who voted to pass the amendment and who once had been Andrew’s high-school economics teacher.

But Bills has become the GOP’s U.S. Senate candidate. So, now the GOP candidate will be Anna Wills. On her website, Wills is crystal clear on a number of things:

 “Pro life, pro family; a Constitutional conservative; pro free market health care (NOT Obama care; cut taxes and regulations for all Minnesotans; expanding parental choice in education; pro Second Amendment; support Voter ID.”

Noticeably absent in Wills’ list is a direct reference to the so-called marriage amendment.

Lori is helping her husband in his race and working as a volunteer for Minnesotans United for All Families, the umbrella organization working to defeat the amendment.

In her latest fundraising letter for the organization, she wrote:

“If our opponents win, Andrew will have died protecting a constitution that limited his own freedom to marry the person he loved.”

Couple says issue is about ‘access to rights’

Mostly though, Jeff said, the couple doesn’t talk about the amendment as a marriage amendment.

Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt
Photo Courtesy of Jeff WilfahrtCpl. Andrew Wilfahrt was killed by a bomb while on
patrol in Afghanistan in 2011.

“It’s about citizenship and access to rights,” he says.

He said the other big point they make in addressing the amendment issue is: “The U.S. military is on our side.”

“The right loves to talk about the military,” Jeff said. “So Andrew’s story is confounding to them. They want to talk about the military, but what about this gay guy?”

To date, the Wilfahrts have been subject to only a little criticism for their activism. A blogger, Jeff said, suggested that “I’m coming close to becoming another Cindy Sheehan.”

Sheehan is the anti-war activist whose son, Casey, was killed in Iraq in 2004. She made international headlines in 2005, when she set up a war protest camp outside President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch.

It should be noted that neither Wilfahrt is troubled by the comparison to Sheehan. They despise the ongoing war, which they see as unwinnable and unending. They place the blame for the war on President Bush.

Jeff insists his campaign is about far more than the amendment.

“Education, the economy, equality,” he said of the fundamental themes.

 He bristles at GOP talk of “limited government.”

“My opponent is a legislative assistant [to Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake] and her husband [Rob] is a legislative assistant [to Sen. Chris Gerlach, R-Apple Valley],” he said. “It’s a classic case — these small-government people who are drawing their paychecks from the government.”

Although he’s running in a district that traditionally supports the GOP, Wilfahrt says he’s been receiving both moral and some financial support from Republicans.

And because of the Wilfahrts’ national prominence on gay rights issues, this little legislative race already has drawn a national audience among gay rights activists.

The couple has spoken at churches throughout the state.

Anna Wills
Republican candidate Anna Wills

“Wonderfully supportive,” said Lori of the churches.

That’s a reminder that although the Christian right and the Catholic Church are major supporters of the amendment, it’s an issue that divides Christians.

The White House sent them one of the pens used in signing an end to the military’s discrimination against gays in the military.

Their speaking schedule is full “from now to October.”

All of this is so different from how they anticipated their lives would be.

“We were like most people,” said Lori, who works as e-marketing manager for a line of 3M dental products. Her husband, a former 3M employee, is now self-employed and for many years specialized in writing high-end engineering software.

“We read about events,” she said. “But we sat at home and griped and complained about things the government was doing.”

They still can complain.

One of Jeff’s huge complaints is aimed at the national media, which he believes “have failed the country by sanitizing the war.”

But mostly they work to change hearts and minds. (Lori’s style is a little more low-key than her husband’s.)  Their work is highly public and unending — at least until November.

What would Andrew have thought of the roads his parents have taken?

“He’d laugh,” said his mother. “But I think he’d be glad that we were making a difference.”

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by evelyn blum on 06/12/2012 - 10:47 am.


    I have heard these parents speak on their son, who gave his life for this country. They are smart, educated and loving people.

    I would vote for Jeff any day.

  2. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 06/12/2012 - 10:49 am.

    Thank you

    As a family with a gay child, we are grateful to Lori and Jeff Wilfahrt for their amazing work. Our hearts go out to them as we know they dearly miss their beloved Andrew. In the midst of their grief, they have touched so many hearts with a message of inclusion and respect for all. When the amendment is defeated in November, we will remember the work they did to see that happen.

  3. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 06/12/2012 - 10:57 am.

    other amendment proposal

    They could also speak on behalf of their son on the other amendment that would have limited their son’s right to vote because of photo ID.

  4. Submitted by David Frenkel on 06/12/2012 - 11:03 am.

    Marriage Amendment

    I moved back to MN a few years ago from the Washingotn, DC area where I often heard presentations by US military officers talking about how the pain of the lingering wars was not felt by the general public in the US. I have walked the halls of the Bethesda Naval Hospital outside of Washington, DC and have seen the pain endured by the heroes of these ongoing conflicts.
    We have men and woman of different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations dieing for our country.
    With all the problems our country and state are facing I don’t understand why our state legislatures are wasting time in this issue. The real statistics are that 22% of the children in the US live in poverty, 80% of the incarerated men in this country came from broken or abusive families and over half the homeless males are US military veterans. The US is falling behind globally in educating our children. Why don’t we try to solve some of these tough problems that for me are the important issues of the day.

  5. Submitted by Chuck Johnson on 06/12/2012 - 12:38 pm.

    Does Obama Ever Become Responsible For Any Wars?

    I suppose Democrats will be blaming Bush for the war they are waiting to have with Iran as soon as the next election is behind them.

  6. Submitted by rolf westgard on 06/12/2012 - 02:02 pm.

    Let’s hope

    that there are enough intelligent voters in 37B to send Jeff to the legislature.

  7. Submitted by Bruce Bednarek on 06/12/2012 - 07:55 pm.

    Does Obama Ever Become Responsible For Any Wars?

    Chuck Johnson,

    Since I don’t have the depth of knowledge or access to the classified information that you apparently have about the agreements that were executed during the Bush (both) presidencies that could be the catalyst for another war , I can only ask that you check into your vast resources to determine the answer to your own question.

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