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Minn. Lawmaker Pleads for Gay Family Equality

by Kilian Melloy
Friday May 6, 2011

"How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God actually wants them around?"

Those were the words of Minn. State Rep. Steve Simon as he argued--passionately, but fruitlessly--to stop the rights of gay families from being put up to the popular vote.

A May 5 Associated Press article reported that Simon's ad libbed words, which summed up the sentiments of many gays in the face of religiously-based arguments in favor of legal limitations on GLBT rights, struck a chord online, with a YouTube clip of the lawmaker's speech rocketing into the hundreds of thousands of clicks within days of being posted.

At issue was a proposed ballot initiative that, if approved by Minnesota voters in 2012, would amend the state's constitution in a way that puts legal family parity out of reach of gay and lesbian families. Voters in 30 states have approved such amendments. Only once has such a measure failed at the ballot box: When Arizona first attempted a constitutional ban on marriage equality, fears that unmarried heterosexual couples would lose financial benefits led to the vaguely-worded measure's defeat. A second ballot initiative, phrased more carefully so as only to curtail the rights of same-sex couples, sailed through at the ballot box.

Simon's May 2 speech addressed fellow lawmakers in a State house committee. The state of Minnesota already has a law in place, dating from 1971, that denies same-sex couples marriage parity, but proponents say that without a constitutional amendment restricting marriage as a heterosexual-only special right, a future court decision might strike that law down.

Simon argued that the religious messages being delivered in favor of a constitutional amendment should not translate into a barrier to civil and legal rights, a May 4 Yahoo! News article said.

"I'm Jewish," noted Simon. "Eating pork or shellfish is not allowed in my tradition, but I would never ask the government to impose that on our fellow citizens."

Simon went on to say, "We have to be careful about trying to enshrine our beliefs, however religiously valid you may believe them to be, in the Minnesota Constitution."

For that matter, Simon observed, faith-based foes of marriage equality were countered by other religious leaders who were just as impassioned about granting full legal equality to same-sex families.

"How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God actually wants them around?" the lawmaker asked his fellow committee members.

That simple question crystallized the anger and frustration of American GLBTs who have seen their quest for first-class citizenship slowed, dashed, and pummeled based on religious objection.

The earnest, straightforward phrasing of Simon's plea made an impression that shouting, posturing, and heated rhetoric no longer has the power to achieve, suggested a May 4 Minneapolis StarTribune op-ed, which said that Simon's query "goes to show that even in today's showboat society a quietly expressed idea can still make meaningful noise."

From other quarters, however, bluster remained the watchword.

"[M]arriage is the union of one man and one woman, and law must reflect what we know from reason, experience, tradition as well as revelation," one anti-gay argument, from Winona Archdiocese Bishop John Quinn, reasoned.

Another cleric, the Berean Church of God in Christ's Bob Battle, declared that even though they do not share equal family recognition and protections, gays already possess all the same legal rights that straights do. Battle also denied that people being denied the right to marry the person of their choosing regardless of gender was not the same as long-abolished laws that once denied marriage to those who fell in love with a person of another racial demographic.

"I don't consider gay marriages as the same as whites not being allowed to marry blacks," declared Battle, the Yahoo! News article said.

But another faith leader said that sexuality is a divinely granted gift to gays and straights alike. Ordinary citizens also weighed in on the side of same-sex families.

"I frequently hear that the marriage amendment is needed to support and protect families," testified Bruce Ause. "I ask you today, why isn't my daughter's family worthy of support? If this amendment passes today, how will I explain to my grandson that in the eyes of Minnesota, his family is worthless?"

Despite Simon's words, and those of others who argued against writing discrimination into the state's bedrock legal document, the Republican-controlled committee passed the proposal 10-7. A similar outcome had already resulted when a committee in the state senate took up the ballot initiative.

With a Republican majority in both the state's house and senate, the general expectation is that the measure will win approval from both full chambers and appear on the 2012 ballot. The proposition, as currently worded, reads: "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized in Minnesota?"

Critics have said that the measure is a ploy to get out the GOP vote in next year's presidential election.

Simon told the media that although his speech did not slow the anti-gay proposal's progress toward the ballot, he hoped that undecided voters would take his words to heart when weighing in on the rights of their fellow Minnesotans.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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