A State Senator Becomes a Full Citizen in His Own State: An Interview with Senator Scott Dibble


Senator Scott Dibble. Photo by Sophia Hantzes

The 2013 marriage equality legislation had to not only be introduced as bills in the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate, but the bills also had to be taken through committee hearings and championed to be heard on the floors of those chambers. Representative Karen Clark sponsored the House File 1054 and Senator Scott Dibble sponsored the Senate File 925, both progressing and protecting the legislation every step of the way. I asked Senator Dibble to reflect on the passage of marriage equality in Minnesota. Here’s what he had to say about the recent two years of fighting the marriage amendment and working for the freedom to marry:

Through it all, I had this sense of history. I haven’t been around forever, but I’ve been around for a long time. I’ve been in the trenches for over 20 years, so I had the benefit of personally knowing and being mentored by some of those early pioneers–like Allan Spear and Brian Coyle–all of these amazing people who had really kind of thrown down significant professional and personal risk to themselves and were amazing forerunners. It felt like they were with us, even though so many of them have gone on. I felt that it was important to maintain the strong memories, the echoes of the fights that had gone on before, because we learn a lot from that kind of courage, what I call “radical dignity.”

How do you think they would react to marriage equality in Minnesota?

They would be bewildered and thrilled and proud.

It is a major achievement that this movement has been striving for for all these decades. It’s not just about marriage, it’s about taking our proper place in a society where we fully belong as complete and total human beings. To have the ability to grow up, fall in love, get married, start your family, start your life…as if it were the most natural thing in the world. It eliminates so much from the path that had been put in front of us. It’s going to take a while. We have a black president, but we still have struggles with racial inequality and class. But the election of Barack Obama as president is having a transformative effect that we are only beginning to understand. The establishment of marriage in our community clears the path on so many fronts in a way that we’re only beginning to understand.

Also, this is something to think about as well, the way we won this fight and what it represents in terms of advancing the larger purpose of democracy in freedom and full equality is good for our entire society. We did it in a way that was life-affirming that was full of grace and love and patience for those who were opposed to us. And, even patience for those who were for us but were uncomfortable or confused. It’s a new model of how to create social change, because it was built so profoundly on personal conversations. It was about interpersonal connections in the face of tremendous hostility, reaching toward common ground and shared values. Being able to lay ourselves bare and expose ourselves, that takes strength. It’s not about being weak and vulnerable, it’s about being as tough as nails. It’s about not backing down and not apologizing, really forcing people to confront what they try to resist.

What do you think the future is for the GLBT-specific politics? Do you think it will become more general than specific?

In a sense, yes. This is what we’re striving for and that’s a good thing. Part of me regrets it a little bit of course because we lose some of the flavor of our subculture, we become less and less of a subculture. When you’ve been a subculture because you’re marginalized and you’re set apart, you have to find your own ways of being together and forming community and identity. I don’t think that’ll ever go away–we are gay and we do see the world in a different way because of that. You’re forced to figure out you’re gay in the face of monolithic heterosexual assumptions everywhere, and I don’t think that’s going to go away any time super-soon. There’s still plenty, plenty, plenty to be done; there’s still hostility and violence and discrimination, so we have a long ways to go.

That being said, imagine what life will be like one, two, three generations from now. It will be completely different. We’ll always have unique perspectives, unique needs and we’ll always need to be sure that we have a seat at the table to articulate our needs. We bring a voice and a perspective that is important to have. Whether it’s about history or senior issues or public health research, there’s still a huge gap that requires our perspective.

With this rapid movement in marriage equality, do you also see the ability to move more quickly in other areas?

Yes, the whole subject is becoming so much less taboo and more natural so it’s not like an electric fence whenever it comes up. We’ll be able to identify problems and figure out solutions and rally political will to enact legislation to solve the problems…and it’ll become so much less of a wrangle as time goes on.

What are you expecting come August 1 in Minnesota?

It’ll be crazy. I’m already getting invitations to weddings. Just think, forever we haven’t been able to get married. There have been individuals who are long-term, committed partners–married in every respect–so there is a pent-up demand. It’s going to be huge. It’s wonderful. A fantastic era of celebration. You know what’s going to happen is that Minnesotans are going to see all that joy, all that love, families coming together in celebration, all the tears of happiness…and then people are going to move on and settle down, as many of us already are, and start getting on with life. Almost nothing’s going to be different in Minnesota.

Through both the campaigns against the amendment and for marriage equality, you made the strong point that though you and your husband, Richard, are legally married in California, you’ve been legal strangers in Minnesota. When the clock strikes 12:01 on August 1, that will change in the matter of a moment. How do you think that will feel?

It’s hard to predict. Part of it is an abstraction, just a transition from one state of being to another and there’s nothing tangible. On the other hand, I had the experience when we were married in California in 2008. We had already married each other privately, just the two of us, exchanged rings and began to call each other husband a few years prior to that. And, of course, our families knew that and were loving and supportive in every way. But we had that wedding and the ceremony–ritual, vows, exchanging of rings–and then the officiant, a very good friend of ours, declared, “By the power vested in me by the laws of the State of California, I declare Richard and Scott to be married.” There was a transformation that occurred in ourselves and in our family that was totally unexpected. Suddenly, it was like we walked through this gauzy veil and we entered into this sense of community. Our families had an understanding of us and an access to our relationship that wasn’t there before. I was thunderstruck by that experience. I don’t know if that is going to happen on August 1 in Minnesota, but I do know that I’m going to feel like I am a full citizen in my own state.

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