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Continued: 6 months of gay marriage has state confronting profound change

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 2, 2014 - 9:29 AM

Religion at odds with law

Soon after same-sex marriage became legal, Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey released a video on the agency’s website, warning business owners that they could face fines if they refuse to serve same-sex couples. “It has been the case in Minnesota since 1993,” he said. “They cannot discriminate against an individual based on sexual orientation.”

That has left some business owners, particularly in rural areas, dreading the day a gay or lesbian couple walk in seeking flowers, a cake or other service for their nuptials. These business owners fear that if they refuse, they will be targeted as lawbreakers and socked with penalties that could drive them out of businesses.

“I just don’t think people like me should be punished for believing what marriage has always been and meant to be in society,” said the rural Minnesota florist, who declined to be identified for fear of being targeted by the state. “I think our rights are being put into question, and I don’t like it.”

Political repercussions will be better known after November, particularly for the Republican legislators who broke with their party to vote for legalization.

Republican activists in Sen. Branden Petersen’s district took a rare no-confidence vote against the Andover Republican after he became the only GOP senator to vote for legalizing same-sex marriage. Petersen quietly began meeting with local activists one by one, stressing his overall record, which is among the most conservative in the Legislature. Last month, activists rescinded their vote of no confidence.

“Time helps,” he said. Same-sex marriage “has quickly become an issue that is a nonissue for people, at least in terms of a rallying cry.” The coalition that pushed for legalization has said they will not forget those who put themselves on the line. Though many in the coalition lean DFL, they are actively raising money to help Republican legislators who voted with them fend off primary challengers.

Petersen and other Republicans are comforted by the fact that no GOP gubernatorial candidate has made repeal of same-sex marriage a pillar of the campaign. In fact, they aren’t even talking about it.

“That tells you everything you need to know about this issue in terms of Minnesota Republicans,” Petersen said. “The longer that time goes on, people will realize we have bigger fish to fry.”

That time may not be here just yet. State Rep. David FitzSimmons, R-Albertville, thought the debate was over. But his vote for same-sex marriage wound up costing FitzSimmons the endorsement at his district convention last month. A longtime party activist who is now helping conservative former legislator Tom Emmer in his Sixth Congressional District bid, FitzSimmons is still contemplating whether to run for his seat in a primary, as many in his party are urging him to do.

The humdrum of married life

Away from politics, life has settled into a routine for thousands of same-sex couples who are sharing new lives together.

One recent winter night, the Bienieks braved the cold for happy hour at a favorite bar and then home for pizza.

While the pizzas cooked, Thom sipped red wine and Tyler poured a glass of water.

Thom talked about the disparaging comments he sometimes hears from inebriated patients in the emergency room.

Over time, Thom — who is more gregarious by nature — has learned to keep quiet about his sexual orientation in an emergency room that sees a variety of patients.

After so many years in hiding, Tyler, 37, wants to be more open.

An administrator at the St. Cloud VA Health Care System and an officer in the Guard, he no longer hides his marriage at work. When a fellow Guard member asked what his wife thought about something, Tyler stopped him.

  • checking in with Minnesota newlyweds

    “We really didn’t appreciate the full impact of marriage until it was on our doorstep, when one of us was sick.”

    Jan Knieff and Cathy Hare, Marshall

    “For us, after 27 years together, nothing has changed, but on the other hand, everything has changed. It’s even better now.”

    Keith Haugen and Mike Goerdt, Duluth

    “Actually, being married is really life-changing. … The legality is a different kind of experience, it’s really validating.”

    Amanda and Laura Tufano, Minneapolis

    “I don’t feel so much pressure to be hidden. We just strive to be a normal married couple.”

    Thom, above left, and Tyler Bieniek, of Sartell

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