Last week, on the day the Minnesota House of Representatives passed the same-sex marriage bill, the Capitol rotunda was full of emotion: a middle-aged lesbian couple carried “Freedom to Marry” signs; a man with a baby on his shoulders wore a “Freedom to Marry” t-shirt; two young men waved rainbow flags together. Minnesotans are not known for their outspoken nature, but here they were: shouting, singing, and embracing the moment and one another as a hard-fought victory for social change neared.
Last November, voters in Minnesota were given a ballot initiative opportunity to amend our state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage. This week, after the bill cleared the Senate, Minnesota made marriage legal for all.
I often find myself so embroiled in policy and politics that I fail to see the change that society is undergoing. Minnesota legalized gay marriage! This is big time stuff—for us, for the Midwest, and for society as a whole. Not only did we do it, but we did it with great speed. How did we travel so far in only six months?
“Vote No” transformed into “Vote Yes,” and somewhere between budget and tax debates emerged a bill seeking the authorization of marriage between any two persons—straight or gay.
We are the only state in the Midwest to have legalized same-sex marriage through legislation (Iowa did so through a Supreme Court decision in 2009); and we’re only the 12th state in the United States to arrive at marriage equality. It is said that Illinois soon will follow suit. In the Midwest, we have watched this equality spread across the Northeast, hopeful that our time would come too. Now, from Minneapolis to Embarrass, Minn. (yes, that’s a place), all Minnesotans have the right to marry.
We’re a politically vibrant state, with our own brand of politics. From the outside we have at times appeared unserious (see: Jesse Ventura, Michele Bachmann); but inside we are as serious about politics as we are about our Lutheran Churches and Hot Dish potlucks. We vote thoughtfully, and in great numbers—we’ve had the highest turnout in the country. We are historically a blue state, but it’s a shade of blue that’s our own: We’re equally willing to elect pragmatic conservative governors or send the first Muslim to the U.S. Congress.
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In the 2010 election, the Republican Party of Minnesota was carried into power with the national mid-term movement toward the Right. Minnesota Republicans won majorities in both the House and Senate for the first time in nearly 40 years.
In May, 2011, leadership passed a measure asking voters to amend our constitution with a definition of marriage as “only a union of one man and one woman.” Republicans put the issue to the people, confident that, like every state to precede us when deciding in a ballot measure, Minnesotans would block marriage equality efforts before they could even start.
The amendment failed. On the heels of a massive outpouring of support for a “Vote No” campaign organized by Minnesotans United for All Families, the amendment to ban gay marriage went down, and with it, the Republican majorities. Our ballots protected gays and lesbians from constitutional discrimination and returned control of Minnesota’s legislative chambers to the DFL.
With great change came great opportunity. And, perhaps ironically, the push for the failed constitutional amendment against gay marriage galvanized unprecedented passion and initiative in the movement for it.
Marriage Equality Victories Show How Change Happens,
One Step at a Time
Before 2004, no state allowed same-sex marriage. Today, it’s legal in 12 states and the District of Columbia. If you want to see how political progress is made, look to the local level.
Now the marriage supporters were organized. “Vote No” quickly transformed into “Vote Yes,” and somewhere between budget and tax debates emerged State Senator Scott Dibble’s bill seeking the authorization of marriage between any two persons—straight or gay.
Success was never assured. Local media didn’t know which way the wind blew, with one local analyst telling KSTP, a local ABC affiliate, that “a bill legalizing gay marriage does not stand ‘prayer’s chance’ of passing this legislative session.” Governor Mark Dayton said he didn’t want social issues to distract other policy decisions, and Speaker Paul Thissen said he wouldn’t even think of a vote unless they could be assured the votes were there. Year one of our legislative biennium is a budget year, after all, and marriage policy is anything but budget.
But passionate support and vigorous campaigning brought marriage equality to the table anyway. Last Monday, the bill passed in the Senate, 37—30, and it was signed into law by Tuesday.
This story is unique to Minnesota, but the ending is not. Ours is one among an expanding landscape of victories. We are already the third state in the past four weeks—on the heels of Delaware and Rhode Island—to find our way here. And the list will continue to grow even as opponents continue efforts to slow the spread of equality.
But they’ll fail. The push for civil rights takes time, courage, and strength. If those rights are awarded to a few, they will soon be awarded to more. And they are not lightly taken back.