A little before 10 p.m. Tuesday in downtown St. Paul’s Ecolab Plaza, after ebullient sets by Hookers & Blow, P.O.S., Zoo Animal, The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus and more, St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman stepped to the microphone and said, “Today we became the 12th state to stand for equality, today we became the first state in the Midwest to legislate equality, and today we declared that love is the law.”
It wasn’t the first time Tuesday a politician saw fit to quote The Suburbs’ 1983 regional hit “Love Is the Law.” Earlier in the night, in his last words to the thousands of Minnesotans who gathered on the Capitol lawn to witness the historic signing of the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton urged all concerned to, “Celebrate. Love is the law.”
Thanks, guv, and that we did. For four hours people milled about the two-block plaza outside The Amsterdam Bar and Hall, dancing, singing, drinking, hugging, sweating in the record heat, and savoring a monumental civil-rights moment that, for many, was commemorated with a simple greeting of, “Happy May 14.”
When Coleman introduced The Suburbs’ horn-section-augmented big band, which included founding members Chan Poling and drummer Hugo Klaers and guitarists Chris Osgood and Steve Brantseg, anticipation was high for a one-night-only you-had-to-be-there performance of “Love Is the Law,” which only recently was adopted as the unofficial anthem of the movement to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
With Coleman sitting in on guitar and flanked by The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, whose members sported black T-shirts emblazoned with “Marry Me” and who softly sang the “love is the law” chorus as introduction, Poling played the tune’s opening piano riff and told the 2,000-strong crowd, “Be proud of yourselves. Be very proud, Minnesota.”
Then the Men’s Chorus left the stage and the band lit into the song, which was inspired in 1981 by some graffiti Poling saw on an overpass near Loring Park in Minneapolis. Klaers exploded his drum kit with muscle and purpose, Poling sang the words like they were written to be sung this night and for all time, Osgood and Brantseg exchanged some highly charged and emotional guitar solos, and in three minutes it was history.
“It’s amazing and amazing and amazing,” Poling told the crowd. “I told my son who moved to California and who thought he and his partner, Thomas, might get married there, that I think they might have to move back here to a more tolerant state. We’ve heard a thousand speeches over the last few days, and I just want to say one thing. It’s not about love and marriage or any of that stuff, it’s about people. And people really rose to the occasion.”
He thought again.
“OK, it is about love! And I’m very very happy that a song I wrote 30 years ago seems to have taken hold. Thank you for embracing it, and we’re glad to be here.”
The dance party continued under the glowing blue Ecolab logo with Suburbs hits “Rattle My Bones,” “Life Is Like,” and “Girlfriend.” Then the musicians gave the people – many of whom scarfed up “Love Is the Law” T-shirts at the merch table near the stage – what they wanted: An encore version of “Love Is the Law” that found an obviously inspired Poling navigating the lip of the stage, holding the microphone out for the audience to sing, and drinking in the sight of a small sea of beaming faces.
Afterwards, Poling and crew accepted well-wishers backstage as Coleman strolled Wabasha Street, surveying St. Paul’s historic night with his freshly shred Telecaster slung over his back.
“I got blood all over my strings,” said the good mayor, “so you know it was a good night.”