Legislative Work Helps Change Perspectives on Fairness for Same-Sex Families

Spring in Minnesota marks the end of the legislative session. But before legislators return to their home districts, perhaps same-sex couples in Minnesota will pick up a few of the rights, responsibilities, and obligations that married couples currently take for granted.Project 515 is proud to have added its voice of support to many allies on behalf of several bills working their way through the Minnesota Legislature.

Proposals are advancing to allow Minnesota’s state and local government employees in same-sex relationships to have access to domestic partner benefits. Other proposals would allow employees to take a sick day to care for an “immediate family member,” and clarify laws around surrogate parenting to be inclusive of same-sex parents.

Unfortunately, the Governor is expected to veto these measures, but the debate will continue.

Project 515, named after the 515 Minnesota statutes that discriminate against same-sex couples and families, made its debut with a prominent presence at the Capitol. As a new organization, we dedicated our efforts this session to introducing our organization and message of fairness to Minnesota legislators.

The Project 515 lobbying team—Jill Sletten of Pace Minnesota and Dave Engstrom of Engstrom Consulting—met with legislators from all across the state. We had one simple message: Start changing the debate. In other words, it’s time to start talking about the rights, responsibilities, and obligations that Minnesota’s same-sex couples are denied. It’s time to consider how the 515 state statutes that discriminate against same-sex couples disenfranchise thousands of Minnesota families simply because our relationships aren’t legally recognized.

So far, our efforts have succeeded.

“Project 515’s message really resonates with our leaders at the Capitol,” Sletten said recently, after visiting with a group of legislators. “We’re talking about giving families equal opportunities in our state. We’re talking about basic fairness, a value shared by Minnesotans across the state.”

In 2008, Project 515 established a clear and visible presence at the Capitol. Every legislator received a copy of our report, Unequal Under the Law, which outlines the 515 laws that discriminate against same-sex couples. Multiple postcards highlighting specific statutes were handed out to each legislator during the session. These postcards made an impact on legislators and staff. Many were posted around the building. Some of the younger staff members apparently traded them like baseball cards.

All these efforts support Project 515’s mission to change the debate—and they are working. Our legislators are starting to talk about fairness for same-sex couples and families, even specifically referencing the 515 statutes that discriminate against same-sex couples.

By these measures, the 2008 Minnesota legislative session was a success for Project 515 and the families for which we’re advocating. But our work is far from done.

We’ll continue to bring attention to these laws this summer and fall, informing legislators, political candidates, and Minnesotans about the need for change in 2009.

However, legislators and candidates don’t act in a vacuum—they reflect the desires of people in their districts. Your voice will be critical to this effort. Visit www.project515.org to learn how to speak to your local candidates effectively when they start knocking on your door.

We would be remiss not to thank our hundreds of donors and volunteers for their help during the 2008 session. No way could we have sent our lobbying team and hundreds of postcards to the Capitol to fight for Minnesota same-sex couples and their families without their help. Your support was critical to our success, and is very appreciated.

Help Project 515 work for equality by telling us your story, or by donating your time or money. Go to www.project515.org.

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