In the hours before the historic vote that gave same-sex Minnesotans the right to marry, people filled the State Capitol cafeteria and gathered around several televisions tuned to the debate going on above them. They cheered and clapped whenever someone made a point on the side of gay marriage.
No one seemed to notice the Lutheran minister who walked through the crowd with his lunch.
The week before, that man, Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, stood on the House floor and told his colleagues, and eventually the world, that he had changed his mind.
Faust comes from a district where gay marriage is not popular. But in his emotional speech, he explained why he decided to vote in favor of the legislation.
Faust said he’d had conversations with constituents about the law, and almost every time they brought up the Bible as a reason to vote no.
“And so if this is the reason or the rationale for being opposed to this or for why this law is currently in place,” Faust said during the emotional floor debate, “the question that keeps going through my mind over and over again is, ‘Do we as a society have the right to impose our religious beliefs on somebody else?’ ”
Faust then went on to talk about a woman he almost married. But he decided instead to break it off because he wanted to make sure it was a person “I couldn’t live without.”
He found that woman eventually.
“There are people that feel that way about each other, that cannot live without that other person, that feel the same way they do about each other that I feel about my wife,” he continued, “and yet because of religious beliefs of other people, they do not have the right that I have taken for granted.”
It was as clearheaded an argument for the bill as I have heard. Others must have agreed. By the weekend, Faust’s speech had gone viral on social media, gay-rights sites and blogs. The Huffington Post printed part of it and drew 3,000 comments.
On Monday, as he awaited the Senate vote, Faust was unapologetic, but realistic.
“I had maybe a thousand calls and e-mails, most of them telling me to vote no,” Faust said. “I listened to them, and I hope they give me the chance and listen to me.”
That’s one reason Faust decided to speak, instead of voting silently.
“I came to the conclusion it was the right thing to do, and to sit idly by and not express my decision would be wrong.”
Faust wasn’t the only legislator to speak from his heart, or to take a chance on election by voting their conscience.
Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, also went against his own personal better interests to vote for what he considered the greater good. He noted it threatens his career.
“I stand here more uncertain of my future than ever before,” he said Monday.
I wouldn’t be so sure. Petersen’s immediate future may look tenuous, but all you had to do was look around the rotunda, where the vast majority of celebrants were under 30. Polls show that among people under 30, 81 percent favor gay marriage.
They are people such as Special Scott and Precious Matlock, two teens who say they simply love each other. Special, 16, and Precious, 17, are their real names, and they seem to fit perfectly.
Special and Precious were among the hundreds of young people who jammed the rotunda and Capitol steps to demand their rights.
“I’m pretty sure this is the person I want to marry,” said Matlock. “You guys get to be happy, why can’t we be happy, too?”
It was a good question, one of many asked inside and outside the chamber in recent days. I watched both votes and was struck by how civil and thoughtful legislators on both sides were. In other words, they surprised me.
I noted that there were few fire-and-brimstone speeches against gay marriage. Legislators were keenly aware of the young people packing the Capitol, keenly aware history is marching on without them.
Most will go back to their safe districts and survive, for a while. For Faust and Petersen, the cheers they got leaving the chamber will have to do for now.
Asked if expected a battle for re-election, Faust shrugged.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said.