In gay marriage sweep, Minnesota is already covered.

Widespread legalization could follow a recent ripple of courtroom victories for same-sex couples.

Jessica Lee

The wait was over.

Hand in hand, the couple swapped a warm gaze and a smile before walking up the grassy backyard aisle in step. Family and friends lined their walkway, all beaming with pride and most choking back tears. The long-awaited ceremony signified an end to a fight.

Glen Haslerud and Will Black promised each other a wedding nearly two years ago amid Minnesota’s monthslong, contested same-sex marriage discussion. The young couple’s engagement, though certain in their minds, remained in flux until the state’s debate resolved, making an official wedding in their home state possible.

“I was happy to see everything come to an end,” said Sarah Doud, Haslerud’s maid of honor. “It was a long time coming.”

Since Haslerud and Black’s proposal, Minnesota’s conversation on same-sex marriage has been silenced. Gay and lesbian couples have been making their unions official since last August, and traces of the state’s steps toward legalization are history.

But nationwide, the gay marriage movement continues to bubble, stirring a thick mix of deeply rooted political and cultural ideals.

Nearly 30 states and Washington, D.C., will allow same-sex marriage in the near future. A cross-country wave of courtroom victories for same-sex couples ignited last week when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from five states seeking to preserve their bans on the practice, suggesting the country’s inevitable move toward widespread legalization.

Officials will wrestle with the issue on a state-by-state basis until the high court determines a federal resolution, which could happen as early as this term.

In the meantime, opponents of legalization are fine-tuning their arguments against the gay marriage advocates, who experts say have louder claims.

A more welcoming place

Nationwide support for same-sex marriage is higher than ever, and courts and state legislatures are responding to the rapidly changing public opinion, said Kathleen Hull, a University of Minnesota sociology associate professor who specializes in social movements.

Haslerud’s foster dad, University alumnus John Gustav-Wrathall, said instances of intolerance and low support mark their family story, but those sentiments have since disappeared. His history as a gay man seeking marriage years ago compared to Haslerud’s exemplifies society’s shift toward greater acceptance, he said.

“I grew up in a generation where we were shunned by family,” Gustav-Wrathall said after his foster son’s wedding. “And to go from that to [this] kind of situation where we have our family around us celebrating … that’s just what it should be.”

Gustav-Wrathall officially married his partner in California in 2008 just months before the state banned same-sex marriage and more than a decade after the couple’s commitment ceremony in Minnesota. He was elated that his foster son could exchange vows in a simpler process and that their state legally recognized the marriage.

“Will gave me a big hug and said, ‘I’m your son now,’” Gustav-Wrathall said. “… It felt incredibly satisfying.”

About 18 percent of Hennepin County couples who filed for marriage licenses in the last year were either gay or lesbian, totaling nearly 2,700 same-sex marriages as of Oct. 7.

The state’s debate over the issue has settled, said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who authored Minnesota’s same-sex marriage legislation. And as support in many regions outweighs disapproval, it’s no longer an issue on most people’s minds, he said.

“Hundreds of people get married pretty much every day, or every weekend, of all stripes and varieties,” Dibble said, “and while it’s a huge, huge deal in their lives, it’s not a big deal overall.”

The state-by-state approach

As Haslerud continued his coursework at the University and prepared for his future with Black, Minnesota voters struck down a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

The pair spent years planning their wedding and going on dates near Prospect Park’s Witch’s Hat Water Tower, and eventually, Gov. Mark Dayton signed Minnesota’s same-sex marriage bill into law.

The couple finally said their “I dos” in front of about 150 family and friends last month at an outdoor ceremony in Eagan, Minn.

“I was ecstatic … that we were actually able to do it here,” Haslerud said.

But with many career aspirations, Haslerud and Black plan to move. They’ll avoid moving to states with blatant objections or bans on same-sex marriage out of fear of not being accepted.

However, they said sweeping legalization nationwide would ease some of their migration concerns.

Though the Supreme Court struck down a section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act last summer, granting federal benefits to same-sex couples, states can deny the recognition of gay and lesbian couples who legally wed elsewhere.

The state-by-state approach to addressing the gay marriage movement, instead of the Supreme Court making a federal ruling, could delay a cross-country resolution, law professor Dale Carpenter said. A number of states won’t recognize the marriages in the near future, he said, and the political battle will continue even with rising national support.

There’s significant pushback against legal same-sex marriage in parts of the country, political science professor Timothy Johnson said. Highly conservative and southern states are lifting their bans and authorizing same-sex marriage licenses at a much slower pace than others.

And for states that tolerate gay marriage deliberations more willingly, the political arena is changing.

Some members of the Republican Party are shying away from voicing opposition, Hull said, due to its seemingly legal inevitability and the strong likelihood that the Supreme Court will strike all bans down.

“They don’t want to be embracing a cause that is seen as … divisive or hopeless,” she said. “All of the momentum is in the other direction at this point.”

Minnesota Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson has backed away from the issue, and state leaders haven’t made any indication that they’ll revisit Minnesota’s marriage law.

Republicans realize the debate is over, Dibble said, and raising an issue would be a distracting controversy.

The changing national political landscape reflects the shift in public opinion in recent years, which Hull said is due in part to generational replacement, or older, conservative people dying and younger, more liberal generations replacing them.

But other factors are involved, especially given how dramatically and rapidly support for same-sex marriage has risen. People are switching their stances on the issue, mostly due to its pervasiveness, normalizing the practice, Hull said.

“People are opening their eyes and realizing, ‘It didn’t affect my life,’” Haslerud said.

He said he’s changed the perspectives of former same-sex marriage skeptics firsthand by explaining the differences between a marriage that’s officiated by a religious institution and one that’s recognized under law.

But opposition toward same-sex marriage will never completely fade, Johnson said.

“A significant number of people in the country who have very strong religious objections to the recognition of same-sex marriages — those aren’t just going to melt away,” Carpenter said.

Officials can legally argue that if gay and lesbian couples didn’t have the right to marriage during the Constitution’s conception and beyond, they don’t today.

That argument rose in volume when the Supreme Court mulled over Loving v. Virginia in 1967, culminating with a landmark decision for marriage law. The justices struck down the state of Virginia’s statute prohibiting interracial marriages.

During the deliberation process, the court considered procreation as a main factor for granting the right of marriage, which Johnson said opponents of same-sex marriage could use as a platform. They could claim that marriage should be reserved for couples who can have biological children together.

No same-sex marriage cases are on the Supreme Court’s calendar for its October session, but the court could address the issue in the coming months and “settle this once and for all,” Hull said.

Meanwhile, states will gauge public opinion and decipher their place in the fluctuating same-sex marriage landscape. Many states are removing bans and issuing licenses at a pace faster than the country has ever seen.

However, Minnesota remains motionless, hosting weddings like Haslerud’s and Black’s, and keeps out of the country’s messy same-sex marriage terrain that leaders nationwide are still navigating.

“Sooner or later,” Dibble said, “it’s going to be universal across the country.”

 

ABOUT:

The Minnesota Daily featured Glen Haslerud and Will Black in a May 7, 2013, story, “Engaged at home, but not married,” as the state Legislature considered legalizing same-sex marriage. At that time, the couple was planning to travel to Iowa for their wedding if Minnesota’s legislation didn’t pass. They were elated that they could legally marry in their home state, as about 150 friends and family celebrated their ceremony on Sept. 19. They said they hope that gay and lesbian couples nationwide receive the same recognition in the future.