BY ERIK SANDIN AND AVERY CROPP
As Minnesota became the 12th state in the U.S. to legally allow same-sex couples to marry with Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature on the legislation, local reaction was muted, but divided.
Local same-sex marriage supporters praised the measure passed by the Minnesota House late last week and the state Senate Monday as giving same-sex couples the same ability to celebrate their commitments in marriage as heterosexual couples do.
“Personally, I was delighted with the passage,” said the Rev. Lanny Kuester of People’s Congregational Church in Bayport. “I know so many dozens of people who are LGBT folks who are in a committed relationship and want to do so (marry).”
“We are so happy for all the same-sex couples who have been in committed relationships and now have the ability to celebrate those commitments as the marriages they are,” said the Rev. Buff Grace of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Stillwater. “A life-long commitment to another person is the most adventurous and loving action most of us ever take in our lives. We all need the support of a faith and a caring community to live out our vows of marriage.”
But area opponents of same-sex marriages decried the bill’s passage.
“I’m disappointed in its (the legislature’s) decision,” said the Rev. Michael Miller of the Church of St. Michael’s. “I firmly believe in traditional marriage. It’s rooted in creation.”
“The passage of gay marriage in Minnesota deeply saddens me,” added the Rev. Shad Vork, pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Governments have a God-given responsibility to do what is right. Instead our state government has chosen to condone what the Bible clearly calls evil.”
Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point, voted against the same-sex marriage bill Monday and was critical of how the measure was handled by the DFL-controlled Senate.
“I was thinking, ‘Holey moley, this is not vetted’,” she said about the bill. “I didn’t think it was coming. I know people in our district didn’t think it was coming and we didn’t know that this was the agenda for same-sex marriage going forward. Not a lot of people in our district thought it was happening and while I was sitting there, I was thinking, ‘This is really going on’.”
Lake Elmo businesswoman Debbie Krueger, a member of the St. Croix Valley Coalition on Human Rights, said she was thrilled by the legislature’s approval of the same-sex marriage bill.
“We just see it as a form of discrimination,” she said about opposition to same-sex marriage. “That’s the way I feel. It’s a human rights issue. As straight people, it’s hard to understand all the discrimination in the gay and lesbian world,”
Miller, however, questioned if same-sex marriage falls under the civil rights umbrella.
“We have respect for all people and civil rights,” he said. “We question whether it’s a civil right.”
Reaction was also mixed regarding how quickly same-sex marriage legislation worked its way through the state House and Senate.
“As it turned out, the groups and coalitions during the amendment process had really organized and had a full head of steam going forward. It seemed to turn a corner pretty quickly. I didn’t expect it to go through this year, but I am pleasantly surprised it gained support and did,” Kuester said.
“I’m still thrilled at the outcome. It was inevitable,” Krueger said.
In November, Minnesota voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman. Washington County voters rejected the amendment with 77,108 voting no and 63,767 yes, according to results posted on the county Department of Property Records and Taxpayer Services web site.
Miller questioned if voter rejection of the proposed marriage amendment indicated wide-spread support for same-sex marriage.
“I think failure of the amendment didn’t mean approval (of same-sex marriage),” he said. “I think a lot of people didn’t want to change the constitution.”
Housley expressed her frustration with the lack of time senators were given to study the measure.
“I was very public about being undecided throughout this process and I listened to as many people that wanted to talk to me,” she said. “In the end, I was extremely frustrated. I always thought, ‘When it comes in front of me, I’ll decide then. I’ll sit down and take a good look at it and make my decision’.”
Housley said she has several concerns about the bill Dayton signed.
“For me, personally, I don’t know if our churches were protected. What will be the education platforms that will be taught?” she said. “I had a lot of unanswered questions. I knew it was going to pass. We all knew it was going to pass. But I really feel like we’re being bullied, so I’m going to voice my opposition to the process of the bill.
“It’s such a divisive issue, from state to families,” she added. “I wanted to listen to the people of the district, and I believe those families deserve equal protection, but I needed more time with the bill.”
With same-sex marriage soon permitted under state law, Kuester and Grace expect same-sex couples to schedule weddings at their churches.
“I’m expecting we’ll probably have those requests coming up,” Kuester said.
The Rev. Rich Larson, pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Bayport, said his congregation is evenly split on the issue of same-sex marriage and he would consult with church leaders if a same-sex couple requested being married at Bethlehem LC.
“I’m not anticipating anything. It could very possibly happen,” he said about a marriage request from a same-sex couple. “I would handle it in consultation with my leadership as to how we would respond.”
Miller and Vork, meanwhile, believe the same-sex marriage issue could lead people to seek spiritual direction.
“Nevertheless, no matter how dark our state becomes, I am confident that the good news of Jesus Christ can transform lives from the darkness of sin into the holy light of the God who created us,” Vork said.
“Hopefully, we can seek God’s will in all of this and live the way he wants us to live,” Miller said.