The Elephant In The Room


On April 3, 2013, a group of five state legislators proposed a compromise bill for same sex couples.  Four Republicans and a DFLer introduced a civil union bill for consideration by the Minnesota state legislature.  This compromise was roundly criticized by advocates of the same sex marriage bill pending in that body.  But, is proposing civil union legislation really such a bad thing?  In a few short months, we have seen enormous movement by the political forces in this state.  We’ve changed from whether we should even discuss giving same sex couple recognition of their relationships to either same sex marriage or civil unions.  Isn’t this progress?

From Tim Pugmire at MPR quotes Rep. Tim Kelly of Red Wing:

“I thought civil unions would have been proposed by this time, and I’m afraid because it has not, now we’ve put all [our] eggs into one basket proposing a gay marriage bill,” he said. “If that fails, there’s no fallback plan.”

The bill has three Republican co-authors, among them state reps. Pat Garofalo of Farmington, Andrea Kieffer of Woodbury and Denny McNamara of Hastings.

Kelly described the proposal as bipartisan, because state Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, also signed on as a co-author. Norton did not attend a news conference today.” ‘Some lawmakers push civil unions as alternative to same-sex marriage.’ April 3, 2013, MPR.

The same sex marriage bill, proposed by Sen. Scott Dibble, a Minneapolis DFLer, passed both the state house and senate committees.  But, since then the issue has pretty much fizzled.  Little attention has been paid to the bill other than some sound bites at the time.  Legislation like this doesn’t pass without overwhelming support by the public.  The issue had appeared to be waning as the DFL held both hearings on the same day.  Instead of capturing headlines and urging discussion, the impact of these well attended hearings went away in a day.

Hopeful sentiment hasn’t made the issue a burning case for consideration.  The strategy of “all or nothing” was becoming frightfully close to a result of “nothing,” as Rep. Kelly said.

Supporters of the same sex marriage bill lambasted Kelly’s civil union proposal.  Doug Belden quotes Dibble as saying this:

“What’s the problem with marriage?” asked Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, chief sponsor of the gay-marriage bill. “People fall in love; they want to make a lifetime commitment together; they want to celebrate that commitment in front of friends and families. So why civil unions? Why something different and substandard and inferior?

“It reminds me of times in the Deep South: You can’t drink from that water fountain. You can’t walk through that door.” ‘Minnesota GOP offers gay marriage alternative – civil unions,’ Pioneer Press, April 3, 2013.

Dibble’s characterization of civil unions as the same as segregation is a false moral equivalency.  Likening government separation by race and calling something by a different name are not the same.  It is disingenuous at best.  It is insulting to say the very real and very physical treatment of people of color to make them drink from different water fountains and eat at different lunch counters is the same as calling same sex relationships “civil unions.”  In fact, it appears from reading the bill, civil unions will be treated exactly like traditional marriages in law.  Kelly describes it like this:

“What this bill does is simply anywhere there’s ‘marriage’ in statute we insert ‘and civil union,’ so to suggest that it does not give them the same rights and benefits to marriage is completely false.”

Some have argued the bill is suspect because it was proposed by a Republican.  That seems unfair considering the following explanation of Rep. Kelly’s bona fides by Belden.

“Kelly has been an outlier in his party on the gay marriage issue.

He was one of four House Republicans who voted in 2011 against putting an amendment on the 2012 ballot that would have defined marriage as the union of a man and woman.

He sat on the board of Minnesotans United during the successful fight to defeat that amendment, and he said the group was surprised when he declined to sign on to the gay-marriage bill.”

Kelly has supported the GLBT community in the past.  However, he doesn’t fit into a neat pigeonhole.  He has come out to support recognition for same sex relationships but without changing the definition of “marriage.”  While some may scoff at that distinction, it is a real issue for many Minnesotans as demonstrated in that recent Minnesota Poll.  Most Minnesotans want state recognition of our relationships but are not eager to call it “marriage.”  That is important because it shows Minnesotans simply want a compromise.

Is that so terrible?

According to Belden’s article, Minnesota had 12,224 same sex couples in 2011.  If compromise is what it takes to give us equal standing, we must consider civil unions as one of the means to that end.  Some same sex marriage advocates have said to me civil unions ‘let’s them win.’  I’d like us all to win. If giving a little gets us equal recognition of our relationships, then so be it.  We should rejoice the discussion is no longer IF same sex relationships should be recognized.  The discussion is now HOW we should do so.

Considering the stance after last November, this is a seismic shift in opinion.  We should take advantage of the change in attitude.  The real “elephant in the room” is we don’t seem to have the votes for same sex marriage but we could for civil unions.  If we don’t accept some compromise, we could lose our favorable moral position.  Then, it could be years before we see a change in the law.  Is it worth that?


Contact Your Politicians
Governor Mark Dayton
Phone: (651) 201-3400
Email: (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
“Don’t Skip Dessert” an Interview with Rep. Ryan Winkler from Issue 461, January 24, 2013
“What’s In A Name?” A Case for Civil Unions from Issue 461, January 24, 2013
Outreach: Conversation with Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R)” from Issue 462, February 7, 2013
Carrie Chapman Catt’s Winning Plan” from Issue 462, February 7, 2013
“Our Family Albums” from Issue 463, February 21, 2013
Talking Strategy with Richard Carlbom [of Minnesotans United for All Families]” from Issue 463, February 21, 2013
Vanguard” from Issue 464, March 7, 2013
Beating the Clock” from Issue 466, April 4, 2013
Rocky Mountain High” from Issue 467, April 18, 2013
The Elephant in the Room” from Issue 467, April 18, 2013

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