For some, the law taking effect Thursday signals a deteriorating society.
In the midst of the celebration about same-sex marriage, some Minnesotans are quietly mourning.
They are ordinary parishioners, neighbors down the street, co-workers in the elevator who steadfastly believe that marriage is meant solely for a man and a woman.
“I can’t say we’re bitter,” said Tom O’Neill of Eagan. “We’re disappointed. It’s people saying, ‘If it’s good for me, I don’t care about anyone else.’ There’s nothing that’s intrinsically evil anymore.”
“To me, the moral compass is disintegrating,” added his wife, Mary. “Not just changing — disintegrating.”
The O’Neills are among several Minnesotans who were willing to talk about being caught in the undertow of a wave of social change, illustrated by the legalization of gay marriage starting Thursday. All hew to the ethic of “hate the sin, love the sinner.”
If anything, their sadness is less directed toward this particular issue than to the moral erosion of society in general. For them, same-sex marriage is the most recent straw on a teetering pile of hollow chaff.
“When this happens to people of faith, we have one staunch and true anchor to secure ourselves in storms: our faithful savior, Jesus Christ,” said Naomi Jirele of Medford, Minn. “Personally, I seem to get even stronger in my commitment, more focused on how he is showing me to walk out each day in love and wisdom.”
“We feel privileged to have faith,” said Ceil Schommer of Mendota Heights.
They believe their views represent the majority of Minnesotans and Americans. Yet many polls mark a slow but steadily growing acceptance of same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage now will be legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia, Minnesota being the most recent. In a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll from February, 38 percent thought legislators should change the law to allow such unions. By June, that figure had risen to 46 percent. Nationally, a May Gallup Poll shows a slim majority supporting gay marriage.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that married same-sex couples deserve the same federal benefits as other married couples.
Then there’s the related factor that marriage itself is becoming less common. In the United States, marriage rates have been steadily falling since the 1970s, while the number of cohabiting couples has risen to a high of 7.5 million in 2010.
Such shifts are enough to cause Schommer to say, perplexedly, “All the people who can get married want to live together, and people who can’t get married want to marry.”
Faith, more than politics
The O’Neills and the Schommers are members of the Church of St. Peter in Mendota. While many Republicans oppose the legalization of gay marriage, they took pains to explain that they’re not lockstep conservatives. They think Rush Limbaugh is more bombastic entertainer than serious commentator, that Sean Hannity is far too apocalyptic to be taken seriously. Kurian Cherucheril of Mendota Heights, also a member of St. Peter, emigrated from India in 1968 and said he disagrees with GOP stances on some social issues, notably immigration.
Their concerns aren’t so much political as cultural. Mel Schommer, Ceil’s husband, regrets how language is growing devalued, noting how “love” is used so casually these days. “People say they love their cat or love their dog,” he said. “The word ‘love’ has lost its meaning.”
With a slight quaver, he added that he and Ceil have a son who is gay. He lives in New York and they speak occasionally, he said. Yet that distance, as emotional as it is physical, has a further component.