Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Long-Winded, One-Sided Conversation About Minnesota's Marriage Amendment

Four years ago, the voters in my home state of California decided to end a new tradition as sanctioned by the state’s courts – same-gender marriage.

This new tradition was created by the then-Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco Gavin Newsom when he defied state law and opened up the marriage rolls. A court case later, and the state was given the license to extend the same legal and taxation rights to same-gender couples. Then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger simply slowed it to happen.

A majority of Californians voted to overturn this decree. The case is still in the courts – again. Yet, several thousand couples are still legally married. That is my home state in a nutshell.

For the past eight years or so, I have been a legal resident of another state – Minnesota. It has been home to me, just like California. Whenever I roam from my home in Robbinsdale to work in Minneapolis and across the state, there are many reminders of home. My own neighborhood reminds me of the place where I grew up – Reseda, in the San Fernando Valley. I can pick out places in the Twin Cities that are part-Los Angeles, part-San Francisco, part-Orange County…etc. The farmlands are real, though I could be driving through the San Joaquin Valley as I was going through Hutchinson or Austin. There is beauty in California equal to the Brainerd Lakes just north of Los Angeles between Bakersfield and Tehachapi.

Waxing poetic between my native state and my current home would go on for paragraphs, but there is one common agenda item that needs to be discussed here.

In a month’s time, voters in Minnesota will be asked to codify the state Constitution once and for all to define the legal and tax code status of marriage as between two distinct genders. What this means is, if enacted, that a same-gender couple could never be able to ask the state or ay municipal government to recognize their coupling on equal legal and taxation basis.

Never before has this state used the Constitution to distinguish cultural definitions. I do not think there ever had been laws distinguishing the roles of gender, race and ethnicity in this state before. Frankly, it goes against what this state had been known for: Welcoming others through a notion of “live and let live.”

Over a year ago, that “live and let live” mentality was shed aside inside the State Capitol. The legislative majority in both the state Senate and House thought it was best to put forth a motion to create this ballot measure than to tackle more pressing issues. On July 1, the state of Minnesota stopped operating on a general basis because the budget was shoved aside for a late night debate and vote to put this amendment on the ballot. Consider the “sacrifice” the legislature made by imposing moral authority than fiscal responsibility.

With a month to go before Election Day, we are asked by one of the campaigns to have conversations with each other about this proposed amendment to the state Constitution. Frankly, I am not good with one-on-one conversations with people who have made up their minds about this issue. I get nervous talking about issues like this to people I do now know. No, seriously…

Why do we need to have conversations about this ballot measure? First, it is best to remind you that that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are a distinct cultural grouping within American society. Because its opponents are arguing to restrict rights against this cultural group means it recognizes that fact. This is a piece of information one might need in an argument.

Secondly, I am reminded how fair minded Minnesotans can be. I am also reminded that there are plenty of non-Minnesota natives residing here. Sounds like California, to me.

I am scared, however. I am scared that if it passes, there will be retribution against us. I fear that all of the progress we made on both the state and national level will be reversed. I have seen nations go through turmoil because of cultural divisions only to see even the most innocent of citizens shunned away – or worse.

I am also angry. Every time I see a “Yes” yard sign or a billboard, I feel as I am witnessing a new form of Apartheid – starting here in this state. I may have been a toddler or too young to have witnessed the Civil Rights Movement in this country, but I have seen other movements take root. I have witnessed and studied how power can turn nations into virtual living hells. The so-called Tea Party movement is still a minority that is after a set of groups equaling a majority of citizens of this country. Sounds familiar? Think South Africa after World War II or the military governments in Latin America in the late 1900s.

However, I am hopeful. When I witness the work of Minnesotans United For All Families, I see an amazing coalition of diverse people coming together for this cause. I am amazed how many of my heterosexual counterparts are wearing “No” t-shirts, posting “No” yard signs, sporting “No” stickers and buttons.

Yet, I ask our allies one question: Will you be there after the election? Will you be there as we continue to keep our eyes on the prize? Will you help us have the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act pass through Congress – and so forth?

Will you be there alongside me, when I talk about automobiles knowing full well that I am an out gay man?

This is only one voice in the wind here. My voice is not as strong in this arena. This voice has seen too much division in the country I am a citizen of. It took me most of my life to find a place where my voice is welcomed, despite knowing it may not be welcomed universally in other arenas.

If this prompts a conversation, please be peaceful. Please arrive at the table armed with an open mind and a kind heart – and nothing else. We can have that conversation and maybe we can walk away either understanding the issue or agreeing to disagree.

My bottom line is simple: A “no” vote will erase these fears. It may not forgive the state legislature for letting the state slide into last year’s shutdown by virtue of putting this proposed amendment on this ballot. It will provide food to this soul knowing he can continue the work I do as a re-employed contributor to the tax base of Minnesota.

Look, I will admit being selfish here. Let me extend my thoughts here to include the many same-gender couples I know – friends, acquaintances, foes and rivals alike – who will be severely affected by the ratification of this amendment. They will not see the tax benefits from an equal marital status. They might not have any spousal benefits ranging from post-death impacts to healthcare considerations.

After seeing my home state go through this in the courts and at the ballot box, it is my hope that this amendment will be defeated in November. I do not want to see this state go through a form of Apartheid and having to fight it out in the courts.

With that said – just vote “no.”