by: Mitch Billings*
At nearly midnight on May 21, 2011, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed a bill that will place a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman on the ballot in the Fall of 2012. This vote passed the House 70-63, mostly along party lines, with two Democrats voting for passage, and four Republicans voting against.
I’ve struggled with the direction to take this piece, as I could make it very negative and angry. I could focus on those who promoted what many consider hate, and I could demonize them. However, after watching nearly all of the six-hour debate on the bill last night, I was left hopeful. There was a crowd outside of the House chamber loud in opposition, and those House members opposing the amendment delivered some of the most powerful speeches I have ever heard. So, as much as I am filled with anger at those who are advancing this issue, I would be doing a disservice to those who put it all on the line last night to try to defeat it if I simply attacked those who support the amendment.
I’m a straight male who opposes this amendment. My personal opinion is that enshrining a definition of marriage in our state constitution would treat those who desire a same sex relationship as second-class citizens underserving of the rights afforded to the rest of us. Minnesota has a long history of being fair and open-minded. Minnesota sent the very first troops to fight for the North in the Civil War. We are the state the produced Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. We elected the first Muslim member of Congress. We elected Al Franken to the Senate. Minneapolis was recently ranked as the top “gay city” in the country. I went to a college in Minneapolis where the gay student organization put on a drag show every year, and it was the top attended event on campus, even out-doing graduation some years. We don’t hate here. This proposed amendment is anti-Minnesotan. It is against everything our state has grown to be.
During the debate, a lot of comparisons were drawn between this proposed amendment, and similar laws that outlawed interracial marriages in southern states. Some of these laws remained in place until as late as 1967. It took a Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), to overturn race-based marriage restrictions. The court said, “Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival.” The court went on to say “To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.” This case was one of the reasons the Federal court in California overturned Prop 8 in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 704 F.Supp.2d 921 (N.D. Cal 2010). While the Prop 8 litigation is still pending, it shows that courts are willing to look at civil rights cases like Loving when considering LBGT rights.If the amendment in Minnesota is passed, it is clear that federal case law is on its way to supporting defeat of it in the judicial system.