All Minnesotans are equal
Oct. 15, 2012
by Ivan Raconteur

The proposed marriage amendment involves a serious question that affects the lives of real people.

The laws of the US and of Minnesota must apply equally to all citizens, and the constitution should protect rights, not restrict them.

Equal rights for all is a principle upon which the country was founded, but the reality has not always matched the dream. African-Americans have not always enjoyed the same rights as white Americans. Women have not always enjoyed the same rights as men. Native Americans have not always enjoyed the same rights as those who arrived later.

The process of correcting these inequalities has not been easy nor has it happened quickly, but we have made progress.

We have before us an opportunity to affirm the rights of all Minnesotans to enter into legal marriage. Doing so will be a recognition of the fact that there are many same-sex couples living and working among us as valuable members of their communities. They are entitled to the same rights as heterosexual Minnesotans.

Voting “no” on the constitutional amendment will not automatically make same-sex marriages legal in Minnesota. Voting “no” will simply prevent amending the constitution to prohibit such unions.

Another principle upon which this country was founded is the freedom of religion. We are free to practice the religion of our choice or none at all. Freedom of religion does not include the freedom for one group to impose its beliefs upon another group.

Some oppose granting rights to gays and lesbians because they say the Scriptures denounce homosexuals. Yet, only a few Bible verses refer to same-sex behavior in any way – and none refer to homosexual orientation as it is understood today.

Even if same-sex marriages were legal, churches that are against the practice could refuse to perform these ceremonies, just as they are already free to refuse to marry persons of other faiths.

Church and state should be kept separate. Those who do not want government interfering with their church should keep their church out of government.

People who oppose same-sex marriage and say their interpretation of the Bible is the only correct one are marginalizing gays and lesbians, and telling everyone else – including many Christians, who have prayerfully, carefully, and thoughtfully considered all the information and reached a different conclusion – that their opinions and beliefs don’t matter.

We are told that God is love and loves all His children. That is the important message we should take from the Bible.

If, in reading the Bible, we find excuses to humiliate, hurt, or hate someone else, we have missed something. We should not use the Bible as a tool to carry out our own agenda, or as a club with which to beat anyone who is different from ourselves.

The fact that society has done something the same way for a long time is not justification for continuing to do it that way.

There was a time when slave owners used the Bible to justify the practice of slavery. Through the lens of time, we can now see that this argument was flawed. Slavery is wrong, and eventually, enough people came forward and took a stand against it to end the injustice. I hope we will someday be able to look back at the prohibition of same-sex marriage in the same way.

Regardless of our religious beliefs, we must remember the constitution is the law of the state, not of the church.

Article 1 of the Minnesota Constitution is the bill of rights.

Section 2 addresses rights and privileges, and states, in part, “No member of this state shall be disfranchised or deprived of any of the rights or privileges secured to any citizen thereof.”

Section 16 is headed: “Freedom of conscience; no preference to be given to any religious establishment or mode of worship.” It states, in part, “The enumeration of rights in this constitution shall not deny or impair others retained by and inherent in the people. The right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience shall never be infringed; nor shall any man be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any religious or ecclesiastical ministry against his consent; nor shall any control of or interference with the rights of conscience be permitted, or any preference be given by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship.”

Amending the constitution to limit the rights of some citizens based on the religious beliefs of another group of citizens seems to violate both the letter and intent of the Minnesota Constitution.

Affirming the right of marriage for same-sex couples will not threaten the right of marriage for heterosexuals any more than extending the right to vote to women or to African Americans threatened the voting rights of white male voters.

I would not want anyone to tell me who I can or cannot marry, and, as long as the parties are consenting adults, I am not going to tell anyone else who they can marry.

“Separate but equal” is not equal and doesn’t work. Even in states where alternative unions are allowed, they are vastly different from marriage. The term marriage conveys legal, as well as societal implications. It conveys dignity, security, and recognition. Civil unions do not offer protection under federal law, and they may not be recognized outside of the state where they are granted.

If marriages and civil unions are the same, we don’t need two terms or processes, and, if they are not the same, we are giving some citizens second-class status.

According to the Child Welfare League of America, children who grow up with gay or lesbian parents fare as well as those whose parents are heterosexual. Evidence shows that children’s optimal development is influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by its structural form. No studies have found risks to, or disadvantages for, children growing up with one or two gay parents compared to children growing up with heterosexual parents.

Recognizing same-sex marriages may stabilize, rather than threaten, families.

Successful marriages and families require deep love and commitment, and I see no evidence to suggest that heterosexuals have a greater capacity for that kind of love and commitment than gays or lesbians.

Same-sex couples are living among us in stable, committed, nurturing relationships. They should be allowed to care for their loved ones just as other Minnesotans do. Affirming their right to marriage would help ensure guaranteed hospital visitation and other important rights that may currently be denied to gay and lesbian couples.

People sometimes talk about decency and doing what is right when they speak in favor of the proposed amendment. Well, it is never decent to marginalize one segment of the population. Doing the right thing never involves depriving others of their dignity.

I cannot, in good conscience, vote in favor of any constitutional amendment that deprives one group of citizens of rights while granting those rights to others.

This is not just a philosophical discussion. It affects people’s lives – people who live in our communities, work with us, and who may be part of our own families.

I hope all Minnesotans will search their consciences, and vote “no” on the proposed marriage amendment.

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