Debate momentum slows politically, but dissent could show in elections
The historic turn of midnight will uncork celebration.
Wedding gatherings on the eve of Aug. 1 anticipate the legalization of same-sex marriage in Minnesota. After the stroke of midnight, Minnesota will join 13 states where same-sex couples can legally marry.
Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey considers it “significant,” noting that human rights ebb and flow.
“But we have made a lot of progress,” he said.
The Washington County Department of Property Records and Taxpayer Services has been accepting marriage license applications from same-sex couples since early June, according to PRTS Director Jennifer Wagenius. All couples planning to wed Aug. 1 had until late this week to file a marriage license application to fall within the state-mandated seven-day waiting period.
The Rev. Buff Grace, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Stillwater, said one same-sex couple registered for marriage at his church, but no date has been set yet.
The Revs. Lanny Kuester of People’s Congregational Church and Rich Larson of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, both in Bayport, have not had any same-sex couples register for marriage at their respective churches.
In fact, Larson doesn’t yet know if Bethlehem Lutheran leaders will allow same-sex marriages in the church.
“We are still working as a congregation on what our next steps will be,” Larson said.
Politically in the Minnesota, the marriage issue seems defused. Within days of Gov. Mark Dayton signing the same-sex marriage bill in May, Republicans, who pushed the same-sex marriage ban amendment onto the 2012 ballot, spoke of moving on.
Everyone is Minnesota is tired of the issue, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, recently said.
Republican Party officials suggest they’ve set the issue aside.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of merit to raise that up (same-sex marriage) as an election-year issue,” Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey recently said. “It’s more or less water under the bridge — at least for now.”
But Minnesota for Marriage spokeswoman Autumn Leva said she doesn’t view the dawn of Aug. 1 as ending the debate. Minnesota for Marriage supported the marriage amendment.
Deeply held convictions are strong, Leva explained. People around the state are “really upset” with the Legislature, she said, and they could express this at the polls.
If so, backlash could await the handful of Republicans who voted for the same-sex marriage bill last session. Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, the sole Republican Senate vote, was recently rebuked by his Senate district’s Republican executive committee.
Same-sex marriage advocates speak of not forgetting the lawmakers who supported the marriage legislation and of watching their backs. Recently the Minnesotans United political action committee — the outgrowth of the anti-amendment Minnesotans United for All Families — released “The Minnesota 15,” a list of legislators who voted for the marriage bill and whom the PAC will support.
Petersen, co-author of the Senate marriage bill, is on the list. So are Republicans Rep. Jenifer Loon of Eden Prairie, Rep. Andrea Kieffer of Woodbury, Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington, and Rep. David FitzSimmons of Albertville.
So are a number of Democrats, including Rep. Tim Faust of Hinckley, who voted for the same-sex marriage bill though the amendment “yes” vote was estimated at 63 percent in his legislative district.
One provision in the same-sex marriage bill Garofalo cited as central to his support specifies religious groups cannot be required to perform same-sex marriages. A divide in the religious community over same-sex marriage was apparent in legislative hearings over the years of the marriage debate, and it remains.
“It is the height of irony that the Minnesota Legislature decided, and the governor signed into law, the redefinition of marriage just after we celebrated the unique gifts of mothers and women on Mother’s Day,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, said in May.
Other churches view relationships differently.
At Light of the World Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Farmington – whose former Pastor Deb Stehlin opposed the marriage amendment – pastors say on Sunday, “All are welcome.”
“No exceptions,” the congregation replies.
“God doesn’t really have any favorites,” Stehlin said last summer.
Minnesotans United for All Families former campaign manager Richard Carlbom believes the debate on same-sex marriage is coming to an end in Minnesota.
“I think the debate is going to end very quickly, if (it’s) not already over,” he said.
Carlbom points to recent comments by Republican gubernatorial candidates suggesting same-sex marriage is perceived as a spent campaign issue.
Asked whether it was inevitable that same-sex marriage would be legalized in Minnesota, Carlbom described the legislation as the product of hard work, strategy and resources.
“That’s what makes it inevitable,” Carlbom said.
Carlbom, a graduate of North Branch High School, and his partner plan to marry in December.
While the marriage bill exempts religious groups from performing same-sex marriages if against their beliefs, businesses cannot discriminate or refuse to provide services based on sexual orientation.
The Minnesota Human Rights Act for 20 years has made such discrimination illegal, Lindsey noted.
“I don’t anticipate a great number of complaints,” Lindsey said when asked about same-sex weddings and businesses providing services.
According to The Williams Institute’s analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census, there are some 10,000 same-sex couples living in Minnesota.
States allowing same-sex marriage are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected] Gazette intern Amanda White contributed to this report.