I’ll Take Civil Marriage for the Win!
No one could be happier than I that gay marriage passed in Minnesota a couple of weeks ago. I’m thrilled we disproved my thesis in “The DFL’s Big Gay Farce.” Minnesotans United for All Families, Lavender, the GLBT community, and its allies first demanded, then cajoled, and finally persuaded the DFL and a few Republicans that our relationships are just as worthy of recognition as opposite-sex ones. We achieved marriage equality because we worked hard, we told our stories, and we made arguments that changed people’s perceptions of us.
So, what did we achieve? Paul Tosto of MPR explains what the law says. In ‘Minn. Senate approves same-sex marriage: sends to Dayton,’ he reported:
“The legislation headed for the governor’s desk changes the definition of marriage in Minnesota from ‘between a man and a woman’ to a civil contract between two persons. State prohibitions against marriage between an uncle or aunt and niece or nephew, or between first cousins, remain on the books.
The state will also recognize the unions of same-sex people who were married in other states and countries.”
Essentially, the state will recognize all marriages strictly as civil contracts. By adding the word “civil” in front of marriage, it made the religious aspects of marriage purely a personal matter. The special relationship between two people is recognized and independent of religious influence. Starting August 1st, all marriages performed in the state of Minnesota will be civil marriages.
This is fantastic and historic.
Now, I’d like to share the tale of my small part in this. You know I’ve been writing for the past seven months urging the legislature to pass something. I’ve worked to explain why this is needed, why we can’t wait, and why we can’t settle for getting nothing. I offer this explanation for a reason. Some have suggested I wasn’t on board the train to same-sex marriage or that I’ve been trying to stop the train. That is simply not true. Here’s my story.
Back in November of last year I wrote “The DFL’s Big Gay Farce.” This was intended to push the DFL into doing something. My thesis was without persuading and pushing that party into fulfilling an implicit promise they’d made to us, we wouldn’t get our relationships recognized in this session, if ever. I have numerous quotes where all legislative leaders, the governor, and even some on our side said it may not happen. I wasn’t going to go quietly into that good night. So I began writing articles.
By the beginning of March, I was getting quite nervous. Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Karen Clark had introduced their respective bills for same-sex marriage, but the DFL wasn’t taking ownership of it. If the bill couldn’t pass the house, the issue was dead. I’d been told a civil union bill was in the works but it hadn’t been introduced. I felt I needed to do something. Something big.
I’d been reading some persuasive argument theories and sociological ideas when I came across something I’d read in college. It was something called “rational choice theory.” It’s an economic theory that suggests individuals act in a rational way balancing rewards and punishments for the things they want and need. In other words, people use a kind of personal cost/benefit analysis to decide if something is worth the sacrifice for pleasure of it.
For example, I may want that big juicy steak but it is expensive and it will clog my arteries. I must then make a determination whether the benefit of the tasty steak is worth the cost to health and pocketbook. But this isn’t just an economic theory. It has also been used to explain social interactions. We thank people because then they will continue doing nice things for us. We can also scold people if they do something that hurts us. Sometimes this motivates people to stop doing it.
Why couldn’t I use this idea to motivate political actors as well? Then, I came upon this by John Scott in “Rational Choice Theory,” Understanding Contemporary Society: Theories of The Present, edited by G. Browning, A. Halcli, and F. Webster, 2000:
“Rational choice theorists also recognise that the threat of punishment or the promise of a reward may motivate people just as much as the punishment or reward itself. The threat of punishment, for example, may call forth appropriate behaviour from those who wish to avoid the punishment. This assumption allowed Homans [the theory’s creator] to recognise the motivating role of threats and inducements in the conditioning of human behaviour.”
There were simply not enough DFLers in the House to vote for same-sex marriage if those in rural areas didn’t agree. There wasn’t enough of a reward to get them to do so. There aren’t enough of us and we don’t have enough allies in those areas to either punish or induce them. We needed to get the DFL leadership to push the issue. This meant some kind of gambit to force them to take ownership of the issue and get it passed.
So, what would make the DFL feel they had to pass same-sex legislation? Obviously they would have our gratitude but then they already have the support of the GLBT community. What if they thought they’d lose out on this issue? If Republicans began to support my civil union proposal it could get the DFL to act.
Following my interview with Rep. Kieffer, she’d agreed to sponsor a civil union bill. She was getting others on board but they still hadn’t acted. If I could get the GOP to push for a compromise, would the DFL fold on it or would they push back and start twisting arms to get same-sex marriage passed?
I didn’t single-handedly perform sociological jujitsu on the DFL. Nor was I primarily motivated by these ideas. However, I did consider the following:
We needed a contingency plan. We needed to make some news. We needed the DFL to begin feeling a little bit nervous.
Because of all these reasons, I headed up to the state capital and testified for a civil union bill. If a bill was proposed, it would change the entire course of the conversation. No longer would it be all or nothing. It would become civil unions or marriage. It would mean we’d have something.
On April 3, 2013, Rep. Tim Kelly, along with Reps. Kieffer, Garofalo, McNamara, and DFL Rep. Kim Norton proposed a civil union bill. I want to thank each and every one of them for their work on this. They faced an undeserved firestorm of heat. I especially want to thank Rep. Andrea Kieffer who has been a friend and ally. Along with Rep. Pat Garofalo, Kieffer ended up voting for the civil marriage bill. They deserve our support.
As a result of the civil union bill being introduced, House Speaker Paul Thissen finally committed. The same day the bill was introduced, Doug Belden of the St. Paul Pioneer Press stated in “Minnesota GOP offers gay marriage alternative – civil unions”: “House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, called civil unions ‘an idea whose time has passed and would simply create a new separate and unequal category for same-sex couples in our state.'”
I admit I didn’t even realize at the time this would tip the scales and force the DFL’s hand. Following the firestorm of condemnation, two weeks later Gov. Dayton began pressuring the DFL to pass the measure. According to Baird Helgeson’s ‘Gov. Dayton leads the call at Capitol to legalize same-sex marriage,’ in the April 18, 2013, StarTribune:
“Gov. Mark Dayton made an impassioned case Thursday that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in Minnesota, kicking off a frigid outdoor Capitol rally that intensified pressure on legislators to pass a marriage measure. ‘Yes to marriage, yes to same-sex marriage, yes to the constitutional right, the American right, to marry the person you love,’ Dayton told hundreds of cheering supporters”
And then Dayton ramped up the pressure even more about a week later as told in Tom Scheck’s ‘Dayton ramps up lobbying efforts for same-sex marriage,’ on MPR.org, May 1, 2013:
“‘I realize this is a difficult decision for many of them, especially in areas where their constituents supported the constitutional amendment,’ Dayton told reporters after the meeting. ‘But I went back to John Kennedy’s Profiles In Courage and said other people had to make a historic and momentous decisions, and they had to search their conscience for the right thing to do.'”
It was obvious the votes simply weren’t there. For the DFL governor to have met in private with the House DFL caucus meant the rural Democrats just weren’t biting, yet. And then, I had one last chance to make the DFL arm-twist their caucus into voting for same-sex marriage or civil unions or something.
Cyndi Brucato wanted to interview me about the issue.
Brucato offered me a forum that is frequented by many politicos. I wanted to give the DFL one last push and Minnpost.com was another place to get to them. By this time the DFL seemed to have committed to its passage but I wasn’t letting up on them until they had the votes. In the May 3rd interview, I once again questioned whether the DFL was really committed to this. Maybe I didn’t need to come on so strong. Maybe it helped make the arm-twisting that much more strenuous. We will never know. But I did it to make something happen.
And it did.
Now Randy and I can get married. We will do so next year. It will be even more special knowing I did what I could to make this happen. I did what I thought was right. I’d do so all over again. I am only a small part of this saga. Randy lifted me up when I was down, calmed me when I was terrified, and urged me to continue when I wanted to throw in the towel. I never would have gotten through this without him.
Without Minnesotans United for All Families, this would never have happened. Without the support of allies throughout the state, this couldn’t have passed. Without the many loud and passionate voices in the GLBT community, this law wouldn’t have been enacted. But, we all played a part.