State’s liberal title in dispute

Some say Minnesota is politically moving in the same direction as other states.

by Rowena Vergara

LCORRECTION: The Daily incorrectly stated the Canadian Parliament’s position on same-sex marriages. The Canadian Parliament is working to permit or legalize same-sex marriages.

Lily Hanson said that since she came out as a lesbian during college, she has not experienced any negative attitudes from other people.

As far as the climate for her as a lesbian student, she said, “It seems OK to me.”

The astrophysics and art junior wears a rainbow ribbon on her backpack all around campus. And “nobody seems to care, and I don’t care,” she said.

Not only is the University fairly accepting of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, Hanson said, but the climate for GLBT people around the metro area is just as accepting.

But when Hanson learned of the Legislature’s proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman, she was “very disappointed,” she said.

From smoking bans to the constitutional amendment to define marriage, Minnesota is politically moving in the same direction as other states, University students and faculty said.

And for some, that might be positive, but other students said Minnesota is following national trends just to be safe.

“We will follow in the trend in what everyone else is doing, because we don’t want to be looked down upon,” said Greer Gentry, a business and marketing sophomore.

In regard to the constitutional amendment to define marriage, Gentry said the state is most concerned about its reputation.

“We don’t want to be known as the state that OK’d same-sex marriage Ö it’s all about politics,” he said.

Massachusetts is the only state that allows same-sex marriages, and Vermont has approved civil unions. Canada is also working to pass legislation prohibiting same-sex marriage.

Andrew Gettis, treasurer of Students for Family Values, said, “It’s a good thing. The more people defending the family the better it is.”

Liberal Minnesota?

The reasons for legislation such as the constitutional amendment come from many directions.

Republicans hold the majority in the Minnesota government, which “gave some momentum to conservative causes,” said Wendy Rahn, a University political science professor.

“You have to strike while the iron’s hot,” Rahn said.

While some said they were not surprised about a proposed ban on same-sex marriage, others said the amendment differs from the liberal viewpoints of the majority of Minnesotans.

“We’re seeing a liberal track, but times have changed,” chemistry junior John Schrom said.

Gettis said Minnesota tends to be more liberal.

“But there’s a pretty strong core of conservatives in this state that are accomplishing a change in the mindset of people,” he said.

B David Galt, the University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office director, said he does not necessarily see the proposed constitutional amendment as a result of shifting viewpoints of individuals.

“I can’t say that attitudes and individual views are necessarily changing, but there are outside forces that are compelling us to change against our own core values,” Galt said.

In the past, Minnesota has gained a reputation as a fairly liberal state.

During the 1984 presidential elections, Minnesota was the only state that voted for Democratic candidate Walter Mondale, a Minnesotan, Rahn said.

Minnesota was also one of 10 states to vote for Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 elections, she said.

Additionally, Minnesota was the eighth state to enact a human rights act that enhanced the rights of GLBT people, Galt said.

“(Minnesota) is full of contradictions Ö you have an activist political culture, both the pro-life and pro-choice Ö and gay rights and a same-sex marriage ban at the same table at the same time,” Rahn said.

Other than Minnesota’s political climate, Rahn said, national issues can strongly affect what happens at the state level.

So far, 13 states have adapted laws that resulted in bans on same-sex marriages. Nineteen states, including Minnesota, have similar legislation pending.

Political parties on a national level mainly shape the public opinion, Rahn said.

“If state parties want to differentiate themselves, that is a hard task,” she said.

The future

Students said Minnesota is neither liberal nor conservative but somewhere in the middle.

“We are laid-back, in a sense, but not too laid-back where things get out of hand,” Gentry said.

In 2002, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty won with 44 percent of the vote.

In last year’s election, Republicans lost 13 seats in the State House, said Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.

But Tony Richter, the College Republicans chairman, said the state is becoming more conservative.

“We’re turning in that direction Ö I wouldn’t be surprised for a staunch Republican state,” he said.

As a swing state in the last presidential election, 51 percent of voters in Minnesota chose Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Beth Zemsky, a GLBT studies professor, said the state is “still teetering” between liberal and conservative views.

Rahn said the conditions of the state will depend on national events, the economy and national security.

But the biggest concern is the growing gap between the elites, or those involved in the political process, and the average person, Rahn said.

“Party polarization is a problem. Not only does it make political discourse almost hysterical in both wings, it turns people off politics in general,” she said.

As far as where Minnesota is heading in the future, that still has to be determined.

“We could go either way right now Ö it will take a lot of work from those who care about Minnesota’s history to take care of its future,” Zemsky said.