Apr202014
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Notes from the Minnesota Diaspora

By Peggy Hayes, Dignity/Boston member

I didn't expect to cry, but there I was, headphones on, watching my computer screen, crying over the images and the words as the Minnesota House of Representatives debated same-sex marriage. During the work day, no less, and my boss had just dropped by to ask me a question.

I couldn’t tear myself away from the legislative proceedings that day, because here was my home state, Minnesota, where I lived for the first 22 years of my life, where most of my family still resides, about to make history.

When it comes to marriage equality, I’m fortunate to live in Massachusetts, and even more fortunate to have legally married my spouse, Jane, in our backyard in 2004, when same-sex marriage became legal.

But this time, the people standing up for lesbian and gay couples in Minnesota were familiar to me in ways that moved me deeply. I knew these legislators, not personally or by name, but their voices and hometowns, their clothing, haircuts, and accents spoke to me of every family gathering I could remember. I was hearing about marriage equality in my “mother tongue.”

And legislator after legislator spoke from the heart about what it was to be a Minnesotan, to believe in fairness for everyone, and many of them linked their support for marriage equality to their faith.

Watching Minnesota from 1,600 miles away, and removed by nine years since Massachusetts made same-sex marriage legal through the courts, and protected it in a constitutional convention, it is clear that this win in Minnesota is different. We know that people of faith made a difference in Massachusetts, too, but for every Massachusetts lawmaker who stood up and said that conscience told him or her it was right to vote for marriage equality, despite unrelenting pressure from the Catholic bishops and clergy, another stood up and said that he or she could not support marriage equality because of faith or religion.

In Minnesota, faith was at the heart of the conversation, along with fairness and the proud progressive history of Minnesota, not off to the side as a complicating hurdle to overcome.

Many of us remember a time when Dignity chapters and other people of faith were given curious looks or worse in the LGBT movement. Even during the Massachusetts same-sex marriage debate, there was not unanimity in the marriage equality movement about the value and power of including the voices of people of faith, especially when the civil rights aspect of marriage equality was emphasized. And many in the LGBT movement had a visceral reaction to Catholics in particular, because the institutional church was investing heavily in an anti-marriage equality effort statewide, including busing parishioners into Boston to demonstrate at the State House against marriage equality.

Times have changed. Faith is on the table in a whole new way in this debate. It is not a set of rules from a hierarchy, but the vital, lived experience of people of faith making their own choices. As out and proud lesbian and gay legislators, Representative Karen Clark and Senator Scott Dibble led the effort, the goal could not be reached without straight allies taking responsibility for their role in passing the legislation.

In the short time since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that same-sex couples in Massachusetts could marry, our movement has gone from convincing a handful of judges to convincing straight allies that this fairness issue is as much about them as it is about the LGBT community. And, we’ve been able to bring our faith along.

Congratulations, Minnesota!