In his now famous speech in 2011 during the debate over the marriage amendment, former Republican Rep. John Kriesel said, “When my grand kids look at me, I will be proud to look at them and say you know what, I was on the right side of history.”
Kriesel, a decorated Iraq war veteran who lost both legs in the war, voted against the amendment, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. It passed in the Republican-controlled Legislature, but was defeated last fall by Minnesota’s voters.
And now the Legislature returns to the issue once again on Thursday (May 9) when the House will vote on a bill that would legalize gay marriage. And it has the feel of being one of those momentous decisions in our political history, a decision that will affect the lives and freedom of a large group of our fellow citizens. Not on the same scale, perhaps, as major national changes in civil rights, but important nonetheless.
Such moments don’t come along very often: The Supreme Court’s 1954 school desegregation ruling, ending generations of separate school systems based on race. The 1965 Voting Rights Act, ensuring that African Americans could exercise their right to vote in many states that threw up barriers. The 1967 Supreme Court ruling in the Loving case, which said that state laws in Virginia and a number of other Southern states prohibiting inter-racial marriage were unconstitutional.
Opponents will argue that marriage through history has traditionally been between a man and a woman. They will argue that marriage is only between a man and a woman because out of that marriage comes children, which gay couples can’t produce. They will argue that passage of the bill to legalize same-sex marriage will violate the rights of churches to marry people according to their own religious tradition. They will argue that legalizing same-sex marriage will force us to talk about gay rights in schools. They will argue that same-sex marriage will cost the state money because gay marriage partners who are public employees will now be eligible for insurance and other benefits. And so on. I am sure many of those who argue against gay marriage do so because of strongly held personal and religious beliefs.
But at the end of the day, this is about personal freedom and about people who love each other—whether gay or straight—having the right to marry and raise a family. It is about the government not being able to discriminate against same-sex couples and about not allowing the religious beliefs of some citizens determining for the rest of us who can marry and who can’t. No one is dictating to churches that they have to marry gay couples. That is a red herring in my opinion.
We all have neighbors and friends and family members who are gay and in committed relationships. Many of them are raising children and doing every bit as a good a job as heterosexual couples. And many have adopted children, creating new families and providing a wonderful opportunity that those children might otherwise not have. Can we really argue that they shouldn’t be considered families in the same way as straight couples?
“Tell the court I love my wife and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia,” Richard Loving told his lawyer before the arguments in the 1967 Supreme Court case about the prohibition against inter-racial marriage. The same statement could be made by any gay person today about his or her spouse: “Tell the Legislature that I love my spouse and it’s unfair that I can’t live with him/her in marriage in Minnesota.”
Minnesotans soundly defeated the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Now it is time for the Legislature, beginning in the House of Representatives and then the Senate, to take the next step and legalize same-sex marriage. Our legislators should be able to tell their children and grandchildren, like John Kriesel did in his courageous vote, that they were on the right side of history.