I am voting "no" on the proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples in Minnesota. Let me tell you why.

In a few short months, my husband and I will celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We are so unbelievably lucky to have found each other, and our lives have been so enriched and improved by our marriage. I can't imagine what my life would be like without this loving, caring person in my life. And we are fortunate to have had the opportunity to make a public commitment of our love and responsibility to each other.

I think we can all agree: Marriage is important, and it is unique. We marry because we want to spend our life together with that one special person, raise a family together and grow old together. Minnesotans choose to marry for the most basic reason: to make a vow -- in front of family and friends -- of love, commitment and responsibility to each other.

As I have talked with gay and lesbian couples in committed, long-term relationships across Minnesota, it is also clear to me that it is for these exact reasons, the reasons that I married my husband, that gay and lesbian couples hope to someday have the freedom to marry. Love, commitment and responsibility are the foundation of any marriage. Why would I want to limit that freedom for anyone else?

Yet that's exactly what this amendment would do for many Minnesotans. And that's why I urge you to join me in voting "no."

Like so many Minnesotans, I oppose this amendment because it would put a government definition of marriage into our Constitution -- one that would limit a basic freedom for some Minnesotans simply because of who they are. The role of our Constitution should be to protect Minnesotans' freedom -- not take it away.

In permanently singling out and excluding certain couples from the freedom to marry, this amendment violates one of the most important principles that I and so many other Minnesotans strive to live out in our everyday lives: treating others as we would want to be treated.

Another troubling consequence of this constitutional amendment is that it would actually limit religious freedom in Minnesota. The truth is that there are churches, clergy and congregations on all sides of this issue. If given the freedom to do so, some would choose to marry gay and lesbian couples. Others would choose not to do so. That's a freedom they should have.

Yet this amendment limits that freedom, by mixing religion and politics in our Constitution and putting a one-size-fits-all government mandate on churches. It interferes with each religion, with each clergy member, and with each congregation's right to decide who can marry within its faith. The best thing to do is to get government out of this debate and let churches decide for themselves.

Now, we all can agree that marriage provides important protections and security for children. There is no question -- every child deserves to be raised in the sort of stable, secure and loving environment that allows him or her to thrive.

Those pushing to pass this amendment argue that the best (some even argue "only") way for this to happen is in a household that consists of a biological mother and a father. My father passed away when I was just 10 years old. My mother raised me as a single parent thereafter and provided a loving and stable home. On behalf of the thousands of Minnesotans who were raised or are being raised in loving, nourishing, supportive homes by a single mom, or a grandparent, or by two moms, I have to say: This argument is nonsense.

The simple truth is that children today are being raised -- and raised well, with strong morals and values -- in families of all shapes and sizes. The love and commitment of parents to each other and their children is what fosters kids' success and happiness.

Trusted experts agree. Recently, the Minnesota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics announced its opposition to the marriage amendment, citing more than 25 years of research that has documented conclusively that "there is no relationship between parents' sexual orientation and any measure of a child's emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment. Rather, children's optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family than by the particular structural form it takes."

Sadly, rather than protect Minnesota's children, this amendment singles out some families and excludes them from the protections and stability that marriage provides. A child who happens to have parents who are gay deserves that protection as much as any other child. So if protecting all of Minnesota's children is our goal -- and it should be -- then voting "no" on this amendment is the right thing to do.

Proponents of this amendment may also argue that Minnesotans should vote to exclude gay Minnesotans from marriage because civil unions could offer rights to those couples instead of marriage.

But there is no law in Minnesota granting civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. And this amendment would actually make it more difficult to pass such a law in the future. In fact, some of the primary funders of the campaign to pass this amendment also oppose civil unions.

Marriage is special. So much more than a collection of rights, it is the way that we say to the one we love and to the community, "You are the person I choose to marry." I am so fortunate to have the freedom to participate in the institution of marriage, and I truly want that for my friends and loved ones who want to marry for reasons similar to mine.

Please join me in voting "no" on the constitutional amendment. Don't limit the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples in Minnesota.


Cristine Almeida of St. Paul is the board chair of Minnesotans United for All Families. To read more marriage amendment commentaries, go here.