Waiting for Wednesday: part 2

Advocates for same-sex marriage are awaiting the results of the Nov. 2 election, which will factor into the success or failure of their causes.

Marcia Kadish, left,and Tanya McCloskey react after being the first gay couple to be married in Cambridge, Mass., Monday, May 17, 2004, at at Cambridge City Hall.  Gay couples began exchanging marriage vows in Massachusetts on Monday, marking the first time a U.S. state has granted gays and lesbians the right to marry and making the United States one of a handful of countries where homosexuals can legally wed. (AP Photo/The Boston Globe, Dina Rudick)

AP

Marcia Kadish, left,and Tanya McCloskey react after being the first gay couple to be married in Cambridge, Mass., Monday, May 17, 2004, at at Cambridge City Hall. Gay couples began exchanging marriage vows in Massachusetts on Monday, marking the first time a U.S. state has granted gays and lesbians the right to marry and making the United States one of a handful of countries where homosexuals can legally wed. (AP Photo/The Boston Globe, Dina Rudick)

Kyle Potter

Volunteers were scattered throughout a cluttered office tucked away in the corner of a southern Minneapolis community center, stationed in front of laptops and phones.

All eight workers ran through their minute-long phone calls with a script-like efficiency. When one call ended, another immediately began.

With the election just seven days away, the volunteers at OutFront Minnesota were working tirelessly to remind Minnesotans to go the polls, and get them to pledge they would vote for candidates supporting their issues âÄî GLBT rights.

OutFront employees explained to those who answered the phone that their votes will likely determine whether a same-sex marriage law is passed in the next four years.

Currently, five states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage. Many activists and legislators in Minnesota are confident that they can make significant progress. Two of the three main gubernatorial candidates have promised to work with the Legislature to extend marriage rights to gay couples.

“I really do feel like there is momentum building to make significant shifts in Minnesota,” said Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront.

âÄòA really different climateâÄô

Although the future looks promising to Meyer and the rest of OutFront today, that has not always been the case.

In 1971, the Minnesota Supreme Court was the first in the United States to address the issue. In a case brought by a gay couple who were refused a marriage license, the court ruled state law prohibited same-sex marriage.

That ruling set a precedent that remained relatively unchallenged for 25 years in Minnesota and throughout the rest of the nation.

Sensing that same-sex marriage was starting to gain steam, the federal government passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. The law explicitly defines marriage as between a man and woman and gives states the right to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Minnesota passed its own version of the bill the next year, as did many other states in the following years.

By the time of the 2004 presidential election, states were racing to pass constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage âÄî far more concrete than laws already enacted. Four years later, 29 states had changed their constitutions to prohibit gay marriage.

Minnesota was not among them, but a handful of bills were introduced in the Legislature during the session that began in 2005.

“Four years ago it was a really different climate,” Meyer said, looking back.

First steps toward legislation

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, has been at the Capitol for 24 years. HeâÄôs watched as the change in attitude crept through the state and its politicians.

In 2008, Marty decided the time was ripe to start talking about policy change. He introduced the Marriage and Family Protection Act that year, which included gender-neutral marriage provisions.

The bill, beset by Gov. Tim PawlentyâÄôs vocal opposition to same-sex marriage, was not heard in the House Public Safety and Civil
Justice Committee.

In March 2010, Marty sat in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, testifying on behalf of his new bill and another similar bill.

“IâÄôve never yet seen a single cogent argument on how a marriage between two women would hurt anybody elseâÄôs marriage,” Marty said at the beginning of that hearing.

Proponents and opponents of the bill paraded before the committee to weigh in âÄîincluding members of clergy and gay and lesbian couples.

“One of the enormous consequences of enacting these bills as law is that we would be on track for an enormous collision between public accommodation of these unions and religious liberty,” Daniel Kelly, a Minneapolis attorney, said at the hearing.

“It affects all of us, especially those who hold unpopular religious views,” he argued.

The hearing was merely a discussion and was never meant to come to a vote.

“I certainly hope that we will reach a time yet when we will have an opportunity to consider these bills,” committee chairwoman Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul, said at the hearingâÄôs conclusion.

Marty is confident that the opportunity will come in 2011.

âÄòThe last gaspâÄô

If re-elected, Marty promised to introduce another bill in 2011, using the increase in national support and last yearâÄôs discussion to bring the bill to a vote for the first time.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, is not sure the mood will be right in the House of Representatives to pass a bill. The bill she introduced last year never went to a vote because it was clear there wasnâÄôt enough support, she said.

Though it has undoubtedly changed in the last decade, itâÄôs still an issue some politicians are reluctant to support for fear of upsetting their constituents and losing votes, Hamline University public policy professor David Schultz said.

“To me, this is the last gasp,” Schultz added. “Those are the last gasps of an older generation that opposes same-sex marriage and gay rights.”

Tom Prichard and the Minnesota Family Council have led much of the opposition in Minnesota by organizing opposing testimonies at the Capitol.

“We think marriage between a man and a woman is the foundational institution in society,” Prichard said in an interview.

Prichard said this institution would be diluted if same-sex couples were allowed to marry.

“If the main concern is protecting the institution of marriage as the gold standard for relationships, same-sex marriage helps to further that ideal, not undermine it,” said Dale Carpenter, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Minnesota, who also testified in favor of same-sex marriage at the 2010 hearing.

Two supportive candidates

At the gubernatorial debate Oct. 15 at the McNamara Alumni Center, the three main candidates focused on the budget deficit and higher education. But when social issues came up during the question-and-answer segment, candidates were pressed to share their views about same-sex marriage.

Democratic candidate Mark Dayton called on the American rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“That certainly ought to include the right of any American citizen to marry the person that he or she loves,” said Dayton, who was endorsed by OutFront Minnesota.

“This campaign has to be focused on getting Minnesota moving again,” Republican candidate Tom Emmer said. He has been avoiding the question at most debates, insisting his views in opposition to same-sex marriage are well known and shouldnâÄôt need to be repeated.

EmmerâÄôs website says he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman and that he has consistently supported constitutional amendments to define it as such during his time in the House.

“This needs to be a state that is welcoming, that opens its doors to diversity, that respects all people and celebrates their differences,” Independent Party candidate Tom Horner said, promising he would sign a same-sex marriage bill if he took office.

In August, a California judge ruled against Proposition 8, the stateâÄôs ban on gay marriage, which passed in 2008. In December, a U.S. district court in California will hear the appeal of the same case.

So long as either side continues to appeal each ruling, the case could ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court, rendering years of legislative wrangling meaningless. The decision handed down by the nine justices may decide the fate of same-sex marriage, nationally and finally.