The independent streak in Anoka County’s politics, known for making incumbents uncomfortable, is popping up in day-after reviews of the Minnesota House’s vote to legalize gay marriage.
“I think it’s great they’re doing that,” said Roseanne Reindl of Coon Rapids, dining with her husband, Bob, at Sparky’s, a popular downtown cafe. “What does it hurt? People are people — they have their own preferences. They have the right to marry if they want to marry.”
Outside, watching high spring runoff in the Rum River, Don Carda of Ramsey was talking the issue over with a friend. He said while he has no objection to gay behavior and relationships, “the hangup” is the immovable force of religious belief.
“Read a Bible; it says that’s wrong,” Carda said, and he fears the state could force churches to adopt values they believe are wrong. “You’re not going to change a way a person has thought for hundreds of years.”
Anoka County, on the northern tier of the Twin Cities, has a politically diverse legislative delegation. It voted to approve the constitutional ban on gay marriage by a whisker last November and chose Republican candidate Mitt Romney over President Obama by a 2.6 percentage point margin.
The defeat of the amendment statewide did not douse the marriage debate along this northern edge of the metro.
Anoka County is home to state Sen. Branden Petersen of Andover, a Republican who crossed over to co-sponsor the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Senate, where the bill is up for a vote on Monday. It’s also where the Anoka-Hennepin School District has undergone intense debate over how gay students are treated, after a rash of suicides linked to allegations of bullying.
On the day after the House vote, people interviewed admitted that the issue was personally difficult, with respectful friendships colliding against religious beliefs. Some were disappointed and angry; others were glad and ready for the Legislature to move on.
“I think this is much more personal than it is political,” said Nancy Bendtsen, the GOP chair in Petersen’s Senate District 35.
A man reading newspaper accounts of the vote in Sparky’s cafe was among the angry.
“I think our country is doomed,” he said, gesturing at the newspaper. “This country’s going to go down in a ball of flames because of such crap like this. Marriage is between a man and a woman according to the Bible, according to God’s word.”
He said he is active in his Christian church in the area but declined to give his name. “This country is history,” he concluded. “It’s not a matter of if — it’s a matter of when.”
One married couple sitting nearby admitted to opposing viewpoints. He opposes gay marriage. She supports it. An elderly woman said she has gravitated from mild opposition to support for gay marriage, in part because cultural figures like comedian/talk show host Ellen DeGeneres have made such relationships mainstream.
But news of the House vote was too much for 82-year-old Darlene Geringer, who lives in the senior home across the street from Sparky’s and was dining with her daughter.
“I never thought I’d live this long, to hear this awful stuff,” she said. “What is this world, anyway? I just can’t believe it.”
The southern portion of the county is traversed by gleaming yellow-and-blue Northstar commuter rail cars. Those waiting for rides at the Anoka station early Friday were as divided as everyone else.
“I’m greatly unhappy about it,” said Doug Evenson of Isanti, a programmer waiting for a lift to Minneapolis. “I have deep convictions and religious beliefs. I think it’s wrong to force that on us.”
Evenson said he worked hard to pass the gay marriage ban last year. “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. And I think it was intended that way for a reason. … Marriage is a long-standing covenant. I just think it’s the wrong way to go for society.”
A few feet away, Beth Mitchell of Oak Grove was happy that the definition is being expanded — and believes churches can retain their own values.
“Everybody should have the same legal rights and the same benefits of marriage,” she said. “If you want to be married in a church, then you should obey the church’s laws. But that shouldn’t have any effect on the legal standings of marriage.”
A mother-daughter pair strolling with 2-year-olds down sunny Main Street gave gay marriage a thumbs-up and rejected the religious objections.
“I think that’s a cop-out,” said 29-year-old Roxy Orcutt, pushing her daughter, Violet. “I think people are using it as an excuse for their own prejudice.” Her mother, pushing Violet’s cousin Edie, agreed.
Across the street, Debbie and Dennis Christenson sipped coffee a day before their 45th wedding anniversary. She said she has trouble making the leap to calling gay relationships “marriage,” but she strongly believes all couples should enjoy the same rights, especially during health crises.
“People who have made the commitment, whether gay or straight, should have the right to be able to go and make legal-type decisions,” she said.
Michelle Dufault of Ramsey said, “I’d be upset if somebody told me I couldn’t marry my husband.” She welcomed the Legislature’s decision, but said having a successful marriage is difficult, no matter the gender of the partners.
“These people, they’re going have to work at it, just like men and women, we’ve got to work at it,” she said. “It doesn’t, because you’re married, instantly become a Disney story.”