“Why We Can’t Wait”- An Interview with Sen. John Marty, DFL Roseville


On December 11th, 2012, I was fortunate enough to interview Sen. John Marty, the stalwart GLBT ally and Minnesota state senator, about the failure of the Marriage Amendment. First, I wanted to get Marty’s impressions of why the amendment was defeated.  I also wanted to know what effect the GLBT advocates had on the vote.

Stevens: You have a long and respected record as a GLBT ally for same-sex relationship recognition.  What are your thoughts about the Marriage Amendment’s demise?

Marty: It shows how much times have changed. I remember when the state passed the DOMA law how only a handful of votes were against it and even fewer were willing to speak against it. It is nice to see a majority of Minnesotans sharing our concerns.  The hateful stuff we have faced in the past, saying it was evil and all sorts of horrendous and vicious stuff.  It was so heart-warming on election night to see it going down by a solid margin, not an overwhelming one, but a solid margin. I was just ecstatic about it. I think there is a growing recognition in the public that GLBT families deserve fair treatment, too.  The public is beginning to catch on.  In the last fifteen, twenty years there has been huge growth in understanding the fact that we are all different.  I was angry this was on the ballot, because I don’t think other people’s rights should be voted on.  There were folks, for political purposes, who put this on the ballot and it backfired on them.

Stevens: What role do you believe groups like Minnesota United for All Families had in the defeat of the Marriage Amendment?

Marty: It was absolutely critical that they were out there.  I remember when I first dropped in marriage equality legislation in 2008, I was talking with some of the advocacy groups that we needed to have conversations and discussions and not debates.  We needed to have these conversations happen in every community in the state, in workplaces, in the local diner.  We had to have the conversation to get past the fear that comes from not understanding.  We talked about having three, four years of conversations about it.  Minnesotans United for All Families did a masterful job of having those conversations occur.  They did a huge outreach in the faith communities and communities around the state.  Every campaign uses phone banks for fundraising and getting out the vote, but they used it for persuading voters.  Persuasion works. We know they had 27,000 people volunteering.  By telling their stories it was so powerful.

I then asked Senator Marty if the defeating of the Marriage Amendment had a positive impact for the DFL.  Marty said, “I tried to keep it [Marriage Amendment] off the ballot.”  He even told Republicans he thought could be allies that this could backfire on them.  In the end Marty believes the GOP lost their legislative majorities because of the Marriage Amendment.  In fact, the energy generated by groups like Minnesotans United for All Families really “got out our [DFL] voters.”

Then, I asked Marty if he’d introduce a bill similar to the one he proposed in 2011, SF No. 1427 titled, “Marriage and Family Protection Act,” which makes marriage between two people instead of a man and a woman.  Marty enthusiastically confirmed he would propose it again.  Other states have adopted same sex-marriage and “the world didn’t end.”  He believes the GLBT community has “waited for too long” for this recognition.  Marty said when people see same-sex couples get married they realize this doesn’t negatively affect them after all.  People are beginning to understand “GLBT families exist right now” and they need legal acknowledgement.  Ordinary Minnesotans are waking up to that fact.

Given the current intransigence of the DFL leadership to this issue, I asked if he thought the leadership would allow a vote on his proposed bill.  He bluntly said, “I don’t know.”  He paused.  Marty said the argument against action because “Minnesotans aren’t ready for same-sex marriage” is something he “doesn’t buy.”  He thinks the “27,000 people who fought it [Marriage Amendment] should speak out.”

I asked him about repealing the state DOMA law.  He said, “I don’t think we have to get to that.”  Marty believes repealing the state DOMA is a half-measure.  Full same-sex marriage recognition should be the goal.  He said, “Martin Luther King wrote a book called Why We Can’t Wait, and in it he [King] makes the argument 300 years was too long to wait to demand equality.”  Marty recalls the energy and excitement of so many young people fighting against the Marriage Amendment.  He seemed to believe this passion will be squandered if the DFL doesn’t do the right thing.  “The DFL will be in trouble in 2014 if they don’t do this,” he said.  “These young people will become disenchanted.”

He also recalled when the Human Rights Amendment passed and there were many people, including Republicans, who did the right thing even though it was deeply unpopular.  Marty said, “but people did what was right.  They didn’t stick their finger in the wind,” to find out what was politically expedient.  In the end, its passage was the just the right thing to do.  He wishes more of that was out there today.

Finally, I asked Marty what the next step should be for the GLBT community.  He paused, took a breath, and said, “Minnesotans United for All Families has to claim victory. We won. Make it simple and do it now.”  Upon reflection, I think Marty was saying the GLBT community shouldn’t be second guessing itself.  This was an enormous victory that stopped the Marriage Amendment and it was defeated by a significant margin.  We shouldn’t accept the premise that this was just a rejection of the amendment but was a positive win for same-sex marriage acceptance by the community at large.

Marty said it wouldn’t take long to pass such legislation.  The Minnesota legislature could act rather quickly since there are already legislative findings in Marty’s bill.  He said, “It would take maybe an hour, hour and a half at a committee hearing in the House, and the same [amount of time] in the Senate.  Maybe it would take a week on the floor and it would pass.”  Marty believes the process could be brief.  There is no reason for waiting.  As far as timing, Marty states, “Maybe we couldn’t do it [pass same-sex marriage] in January, but we could in February or May.”  With conviction, Marty said, “There is no excuse for not getting this done.”

He did say this would require action by the GLBT community.  “The community needs to be as vocal for the next couple of months as they were for the last few months.”  If this legislation is to be considered, it will require the GLBT community to say they want it.  After such a victory at the ballot box, there is no reason to wait.

This brings me to the sentiments evoked by Marty in citing Martin Luther King’s book Why We Can’t Wait. King wrote this book about why African Americans needed to achieve racial and social equality right then, in 1964.  He believed, as Marty says, they had waited long enough.  So have we.  To achieve such goals King observed this about the Civil Rights movement, from page 132 of his book:

It was the people who moved their leaders, not the leaders who moved the people. Of course, there were generals, as there must be in every army. But the command post was in the bursting hearts of millions of Negroes.  When such a people begin to move, they create their own theories, shape their own destinies, and choose the leaders who share their own philosophy.  A leader who understands this kind of mandate knows that he must be sensitive to the anger, the impatience, the frustration, the resolution that have been loosed in his people.  Any leader who tries to bottle up these emotions is sure to be blown asunder in the ensuing explosion.

Upon reflection, Marty’s words to us were about this very thing.  I think Marty wants us to know we must fight for same-sex marriage recognition.  If our leadership isn’t willing to do what is right, it is our responsibility to let them know.  Emotions are running high following the rejection of the Marriage Amendment but doing nothing is no longer an option.  As King’s words remind us, these leaders who ignore us will be “blown asunder in the ensuing explosion.”  Let the DFL leadership know the fire is in our belly, and in our hearts.


Contact Your Politicians
Governor Mark Dayton
Phone: (651) 201-3400
Email: http://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/form/ (Web Contact Form)

Senator Tom Bakk
Phone: (651) 296-8881
Email: [email protected]

Representative Paul Thissen
Phone: (651) 296-5375
Email: [email protected]

Representative Erin Murphy
Phone: (651) 296-5496
Email:  [email protected]

See also:
“The DFL’s Big Gay Farce” from Issue 457, November 29, 2012
“Three of Four Top Elected Minnesota Politicians Comment on the Marriage Debate” from Issue 458, December 13, 2012
“‘Earnest Money:’ Repeal DOMA Now” from Issue 458, December 13, 2012
“Why We Can’t Wait” an Interview with Sen. John Marty from Issue 460, January 10, 2013
Waiting for Superman” from Issue 460, January 10, 2013

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