‘Til Constitution Do Us Part

‘Til Constitution Do Us Part

Why opposing gay marriage is bad for Minnesota.

To: Average Minnesota Voter
       Lakeville, Minnesota


Dear Fellow Voter:


Our friendly state politicians have put on the ballot an unwelcoming, business-unfriendly, constitutional amendment for all of us to vote on this November. I hope we all vote no. This proposed amendment would define the custom of marriage. In thinking about this issue, I am struck by my own evolution on this essentially private concern.

In the spring of 1971, I attended a lunch meeting of the Ramsey County Bar Association at the old St. Paul Athletic Club. The speaker was a university student by the name of Jack Baker, who had just been elected as the first gay student body president of any university (he was later reelected). Jack Baker told this well-attended luncheon that he planned to marry his partner, James McConnell, an employee of the University of Minnesota library system. His remarks were met with, to put it mildly, derision. And most of us left the luncheon thinking it was one of the crazier ideas we had ever heard.

The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed with our consensus and found in the case of Baker v. Nelson, 191 N.W. 2d 185 (1971) that marriage could not take place in Minnesota between same-sex couples. Our liberal and enlightened University of Minnesota fired Jim McConnell for the “antic” of publicly applying for a marriage license, and that firing was upheld by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in McConnell v. Anderson, 451 F.2d 193 (1971). There is an antiquated, almost Victorian tone to these cases today, somewhat akin to regarding a rotary telephone as the biggest technological marvel of its day (right after black-and-white television).

In the years after I listened to Jack Baker’s not-well-received luncheon address, I learned that one of my high school friends was gay. Some of the best parents I met at my daughter’s school were in committed gay relationships. One of the finest and smartest lawyers I ever had the benefit of working with turned out to be gay (and later got married in Canada to his long-time partner). And so my views evolved along with our society and culture. 

For many years, marriages were prohibited between the races, by the so-called anti-miscegenation statutes. The last of these was only overturned in 1967. Adultery, or as it was called in Minnesota, “criminal conversation,” was prohibited by statute, and criminal penalties applied. These laws are no longer enforced. (And good thing, given the well-documented cavorting by a number of politicians, some of whom are very quick to condemn other people’s cavorting.) Other examples of our evolving culture and society are not hard to find.

In 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage—eight of ten Canadian provinces had already done so. A number of other countries have followed suit, including Belgium, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Brazil, and Mexico. In the United Kingdom, the present government has announced its intention to introduce same-sex civil marriage by the next general election. According to the Scottish Parliament website, the Scottish government has already decided to recognize same-sex marriages.

A growing number of Protestant denominations including the Minneapolis Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American (ELCA), the United Church of Christ, and the Unitarian Universalists have approved celebrating the sacrament of marriage for gay members of their congregations. A number of Jewish temples have adopted resolutions opposing governmental bans on gay and lesbian marriage, and recognizing these unions.

Much has been written about the importance of creative clustering in building a dynamic 21st-century economy. You do not create an innovative urban culture by being unwelcoming and actively discriminating against people based on their affectional preference. Richard Florida’s book The Flight of the Creative Class argues that the United States built its creative lead in the world economy on the people it attracted to its shores. To regain that lead in a global economy, we need to harness the creativity of all human beings and, in particular, to build on the traditional openness of our American society.

And that openness, which has typified the best of America, is what drew many of us to the state of Minnesota, and why we remain. Maybe it’s the winters that force a type of communitarian ethic. Perhaps it’s difficult to put on airs when you’re wearing a parka. It may be that you don’t much care about the affectional preference of the person who is shoveling your driveway or helping you get your car out of a snowbank. But whatever it is, it is one of the valuable and unique things about Minnesota.

We are not going to change the Minnesota Constitution to engraft old and unwelcoming customs into our society; we are better than that.

Vance K. Opperman, 

A “No” Vote

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