Saturday's conference drew federal officials to Minneapolis and raised awareness about efforts to amend the state Constitution.
Less than three weeks after President Obama's campaign voiced opposition to Minnesota's proposed marriage amendment, top administration officials came to Minneapolis to tout efforts to support gay and lesbian families.
For the first time, the 17th annual Midwest Family Equality Conference in Minneapolis brought in several federal officials to address the more than 100 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) families and advocates who attended Saturday's event. It was largely thanks to a unique partnership this year with the White House, which is hosting GLBT conferences across the country.
"It really shows a commitment by our administration to listen to the lives they're affecting," said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Washington-based Family Equality Council, which put on the regional conference at Burroughs Elementary School in Minneapolis.
Besides offering support to GLBT families in the Midwest, the event also boosted awareness of national legislation as Minnesota nears its own battle at ballot boxes this fall. On Nov. 6, voters will decide whether to amend the state Constitution to define marriage as a union of a man and woman.
On Saturday, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., reiterated his opposition to the amendment, likening it to the discrimination behind a 1967 case, Loving vs. Virginia, in which a couple won over a state ban on interracial marriages.
"We can be Loving or we can be Virginia," Franken said.
In the meantime, agencies like the U.S. Department of Justice have taken steps to support GLBT families such as by expanding benefits to federal employees' same-sex partners, ensuring same-sex couples can visit loved ones in federally funded hospitals and no longer defending parts of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
"While these efforts may not always make headlines, they make a difference," said Stuart Delery, acting assistant attorney general for the civil division.
In St. Paul, those "small steps" toward overruling the federal act are encouraging for Nora Nell Hamburge and her partner of 12 years, who can't get citizenship after moving from Australia.
"It's nice to me to know other parts of government are changing because maybe eventually it will get to my issue," she said. "This does help me see ... somebody's on my side."
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141 • Twitter: @kellystrib