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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

They’ve married since then, and the next time Tyler gets deployed things will be different. Thom has full spousal benefits and rights. He’s already using Tyler’s GI Bill for nursing classes at the College of St. Scholastica. When they have children, the kids will be covered, too.

“I’m very glad we have the same last name, that we are a family,” Tyler said. “I never thought I would be in this position. I knew it would probably come in my lifetime. … It’s changed so fast.”

Marge Hauser, Thom’s mother, admits to a long personal journey before accepting gay marriage. Now, she said of her son and Tyler: “They are like any other married couple. I think they are really brave to do it.”

“There are still members of our family who disagree,” Tyler said. “Maybe someday, someday they will be able to accept it, and it will be OK for them.”

“The best we can do is keep exposing our lives to them,” Thom said.

Setting an example

Minnesota broke a 30-state winning streak for opponents of same-sex marriage, who had become accustomed to launching campaigns and winning elections that embedded bans on such marriages in state constitutions.

When that was tried here, supporters of gay marriage mobilized with money and manpower to a degree unseen elsewhere. Once they defeated the ban, supporters turned up pressure on the Legislature, making Minnesota only the 12th state in the nation to legalize gay marriage. Others have followed and 17 states, along with the District of Columbia, now permit same-sex marriage.

Another breakthrough came last month, when U.S. Attorney Eric Holder announced that the federal government would “recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible,” including in such issues as bankruptcies, prison visits and federal survivor benefits. Federal benefits will be extended — and protected — even in the 34 states that don’t sanction such marriages.

The barriers to same-sex marriages appear to be toppling quickly, even in those states where constitutional bans were thought to provide the ultimate protection. Recently Nevada’s Republican governor and Democratic attorney general said jointly that the state would no longer defend its constitutional ban on gay marriage in court because it is “no longer defensible.” On Wednesday a federal judge in Kentucky ordered that state to recognize same-sex marriages despite its constitutional ban. Earlier, a judge in Virginia struck down the commonwealth’s ban as unconstitutional. The same day, a move by the Indiana Legislature to put a constitutional ban before voters faltered at the last minute for lack of support.

Fred Sainz, an executive vice president with the Human Rights Campaign, a chief backer of same-sex marriage initiatives around the country, said “Minnesota became an important foothold for marriage around the country. It shows that it is not just some newfangled experiment in California or the coasts. The nation’s heartland is just as immersed in equality as other portions of the country.”

‘Let’s get this done’

Jan Knieff and Cathy Hare met at a church in St. Paul more than 31 years ago and proceeded to build a life together without the benefit of marriage. When the couple retired in 2002, they moved to Marshall to care for family. They were welcomed by many. But when the couple flew a rainbow-colored gay pride flag over their home, the flag was torched. When they put up a Vote No sign in their yard during the push for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, the sign was vandalized.

“We always considered ourselves married, whether we were legal or not,” Knieff said.

Still, the couple had planned a wedding for Aug. 19, commemorating the anniversary of an earlier commitment ceremony. Then came shocking news: Knieff had cancer and would need to come in for treatment at the Mayo Clinic on that day — no exceptions and no delays. They moved the wedding up to ensure Hare would have a spouse’s rights to medical control over her longtime partner. “We wanted to make sure when we went to Rochester we wouldn’t have a problem with Cathy being involved in any medical decisions,” said Knieff, 62.

They called relatives and close friends and asked them to show up the next afternoon: “Just bring your jeans and let’s get this done.” They said their vows in their living room.

“We really didn’t appreciate the full impact of marriage until it was on our doorstep, when one of us was sick,” said Hare, 65. Knieff’s cancer is now in remission. Since then, they’ve been struck by how moving it is, finally, legally, to be wife and wife.

“It is still extremely touching,” Knieff said. “Very profound.”

  • 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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