I recently moved to Minnesota from Michigan. I grew up in Minnesota and I’m very happy to be back and be closer to my family.
While I was living in Michigan, we were presented with a marriage amendment that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. The Michigan amendment was broader than the one proposed in Minnesota. The Michigan amendment reads:
“The union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.”
When I was growing up in Minnesota, one of my best friends was the gay kid that got picked on. Because of that, I knew that being gay was not something someone just decided on. It wasn’t some sort of rebellion. You could be gay without being sexual active. “Gay” wasn’t what you did; it was who you were.
When I started thinking about sex and romance, I was told it was natural and beautiful. Romantic love was a gift from God. Gay kids I knew generally went through a time of extreme self-hatred and confusion due to being told that, on the contrary, as they began to become attracted to others that it was unnatural, disgusting, and against God. The idea that they choose that just didn’t make sense.
It wasn’t until I moved to Michigan that the marriage issue became real to me. The church that my husband and I attended included many gay and lesbian couples. Some had been together for decades. Some were casually dating. Some had children. Some had no plans to become parents. Some were older folks. Some were younger folks. Some became very good friends of mine, others were just acquaintances. I suspect that one reason they attended that church, was that it is one of the few places that their relationships are treated with the same respect that others’ relationships are. Their families were like any other family. Their families had pictures in our directory, just like everyone else. Our church performed commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples just like it did for opposite-sex couples.
They were able to share with the congregation very personal stories about their lives. One of our friends had cancer, and her partner of many years was not guaranteed the right to see her through her illness. Another couple struggled with family members that refused to acknowledge their relationship and accept their daughter as a member of the family. Another couple (good friends of a member of our church) adopted five children (all from the same biological mother – who was unable to care for them due to substance abuse), yet they were unable to legally adopt the children jointly because they are gay.
Very quickly, it struck me just how unfair and hurtful some of the things I was taught growing up were. To be honest, it made me very angry. I wanted to know why everywhere couldn’t be just like my church. What was the point of legally punishing these people that I knew and cared about? I could not think of them as perverted or an abomination or unhappy or slaves to sin. They were my friends. I knew before I went to Michigan that gay couples had families and made commitments just like other couples do, but now that idea wasn’t just an idea in my head. I saw it with my own eyes.
Needless to say, the amendment passed in Michigan. I suppose I shouldn’t have been naïve enough to think it would be defeated, but as I watched the returns come in, I just felt awful. I felt for my friends, whose lives this amendment would affect – and it did affect them.
Because of the broad nature of the Michigan amendment, it nullified all common law marriages (regardless of gender). It also made it illegal for my employer (since I worked for a university associated with the state) to explicitly include the families of same-sex couples in benefits packages. It put in danger the rights of my friends to make contracts that involved inheritance, custody, or other issues if those contracts “mimicked” marriage.
The next day, I came into work, and was visibly upset. My students asked what was wrong, and even though I successfully avoided mentioning my political position in my classroom up until then, I told them the truth. I said I was upset because the families of both the Associate Dean and the Chair of the department might lose their health coverage because of the vote.
Many of the members of the class looked stunned. I heard one student say to another, in disbelief, “That is not what I voted for.” Someone else said, “I thought it was about not making churches marry gays.”
“No,” I said, nearly under my breath. “The amendment had nothing to do with religious marriage, only civil marriage. Churches can’t be forced to marry anyone they don’t want to…Let’s get started with class.”
So, here I am in Minnesota. This amendment is not as broadly worded as the one in Michigan, but the same groups are pushing it, I suspect, for the same reasons. The proposed Minnesota amendment says:
“Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota.”
If the amendment doesn’t pass, nothing will happen. Nothing will be different as far as the law is concerned. Marriage between same-sex couples will still be illegal in Minnesota. If the amendment passes, we will have written gender restrictions into our Constitution in addition to our laws.
Whether or not it passes, or even if same-sex civil marriage was made legal throughout the entire nation, churches will continue to have the right to sanctify or refuse to recognize any union based on any criteria they wish. I know that sometimes anti-discrimination laws have come along side marriage equality, but considering that churches have the right to refuse to marry people based on creed, religious affiliation, age, whether or not they have been divorced, and even race; I can say with extreme certainty that the fears that my students in Michigan had, that caused them to vote for the amendment there, were unfounded and are unfounded here in Minnesota as well.
The definition of marriage as a sacrament or religious institution is not at stake in this election, nor will it be at stake in any governmental election or vote.
What will be different is that our state will have placed in its constitution a refusal to legally recognize the unions of certain couples based only on their legal gender.
I was able to look up my old friend from high school once I moved back to Minnesota. He is now living in Minneapolis and working as a theatrical set designer. I haven’t met his boyfriend, but I’ve looked through pictures on the internet of them smiling and hanging out together. I am very happy for him and he seems to be doing extremely well.
My friend from high school was an attendant in my wedding. I wish for him the opportunity to have the same legal rights and responsibilities that I gained when I signed my marriage license that day. I know that’s not going to happen soon. The best we can hope for is that this amendment does not pass; that Minnesota is the state that finally stands up to this campaign.
If the amendment passes in November, regardless of the good intentions of those who may vote in favor of it, it will feel like an extension of the harassment he, and so many others, had to face growing up. It will be a statement that his love and his relationship, that undoubtedly means as much to him as anyone else’s, is deemed so threatening and so vile that the State Constitution itself needed to be changed to protect our state from it.
Sometimes I feel guilty because I didn’t protect him as much as I should have back in high school. I feel guilty that I didn’t do more in Michigan to protect my friends there. I don’t want to make those mistakes again.
Please, I beg you, don’t do this. Vote no.