Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that makes same-sex marriage legal across the nation marks the culmination of a legal battle that began in Minnesota more than 40 years ago.
While the 5-4 decision has no immediate impact here, Minnesotans who championed the 2013 state law legalizing same-sex marriage celebrated the ruling as a victory for a broader cause.
State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who along with Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, sponsored legislation that ultimately led to legalizing same-sex marriage in the state, labeled Friday a “historic day,” adding that the ruling was “a real achievement for our democracy, and the larger cause of freedom and equality.”
The ruling is a crowning development in what has been a wrenching issue in the state, which remains divided over the issue. Same-sex marriage opponents were disheartened by the ruling, with many vowing to press on in their fight to ensure that marital unions be solely between a man and a woman.
The state has long been at the forefront of the marriage issue. In 1970, two Minneapolis men who tried to get a marriage license were turned away by Hennepin County, sued, and eventually appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court declined to hear the case.
Then in 2012, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to reject a measure that would have inserted a same-sex marriage ban in the state Constitution. A year later, legislators legalized such unions.
Minnesotans who had pushed the 2012 ballot measure said the court’s decision tramples on the rights of individual states and of people with religious objections to same-sex marriage.
Paul Reiland, a Northfield real estate agent who volunteered with the groups that backed the 2012 marriage ban proposal, said he knew same-sex marriage supporters would prevail in court once the issue was popularly framed around civil rights.
He recalled staffing a booth at the State Fair, where a handful of people would drop by. Nearby, the booth for same-sex marriage advocates had “probably 100 people.”
“Honestly, this battle was lost many, many months ago,” he said. “In my opinion, they played it very well.”
Steve Larson, a Minneapolis financial planner and hockey coach, said he’s concerned about the impact the ruling could have on the rights of Americans to follow religious instruction and traditions.
“It seems like recently, tolerance only goes one way,” he said, “and the only views that really aren’t tolerated now are Christian worldview ideas.”
While the court’s decision could leave some religious schools and institutions more open to legal challenges over hiring and other practices, some leaders said they don’t plan to let it change how they make decisions or feel about the issue.
Joe Rigney, a pastor at Cities Church in south Minneapolis and professor of theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary, said he plans to encourage churchgoers to “obey God, not man,” and develop what he calls a “joyful theology of resistance.” Rigney compared it to the civil rights movement, in which advocates deliberately disobeyed some laws, knowing there would be consequences.
Autumn Leva, a spokeswoman with the Minnesota Family Council, a group opposed to same-sex marriage, said she expects groups such as hers will push for new laws designed to carve out more religious protection for people who don’t want to follow the new law.
“I think at this point there’s a strong need to protect the literally millions of Americans whose beliefs about marriage aren’t going to change just because the Supreme Court issued a decision today,” she said.
While the ruling’s impact won’t be as dramatic as in other states that had prohibited same-sex couples from marrying, many said the ruling will make a difference in small but important ways.
Filing state taxes will be simplified. Carving out legal protections in states where they didn’t exist will become moot. Decisions on whether to move for a job will be made easier.
“We live in a very mobile society, so there’s a very practical side of this,” said Jeremy Hanson Willis, of Minneapolis. “People should not have to question where they live and where they work and where they end up moving their family.”
In neighboring North Dakota and South Dakota, the last states in which challenges to same-sex marriage bans were filed, the couples at the center of those suits felt vindication and relief. South Dakota couple Nancy and Jennie Rosenbrahn’s last names will become official on their driver’s licenses.
The Rosenbrahns have been together for 30 years and married in Minneapolis last year in a ceremony officiated by Mayor Betsy Hodges.
Nancy, 69, said she was an LGBT activist during the 1970s and 1980s, an era in which the idea of same-sex marriage seemed unfathomable.
“It’s something that we never thought we’d see in our lifetime ever,” she said Friday.
She and wife Jennie, 73, have four children between them and six grandchildren.
The ruling will allow them to officially adopt their last name, a combination of their previous names of Rosenkranz and Robrahn.
The plaintiffs in the North Dakota case, Celeste and Amber Carlson-Allebach, of Fargo, were still absorbing the news Friday.
“I’m still just in shock,” Celeste, 39, said. “I’m so relieved because this means our family is protected like other families. It means that my children can enjoy the same protections as other people’s children.”