2013 Changemaker: Marriage equality

DFL Rep. Karen Clark was the sponsor of the 1993 law banning discrimination against GLBT Minnesotans – culminating years of work by her and many others, including then-organizer Scott Dibble.

Twenty years later, Clark sponsored the marriage equality legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton. Dibble, also a DFLer, was Senate sponsor, representing the Minneapolis seat previously held by the late Sen. Allan Spear, who was Senate sponsor of the 1993 law.

Dibble was in his 20s in 1993, and thought marriage equality was 20 to 25 years away – “which seemed like an unbelievably long time to me,” he said. “The thought of it taking that long discouraged me.

“But here’s the paradox: It all seems to have gone by very quickly.” It’s widely theorized that Republican legislators – then in the legislative majority – inadvertently hastened marriage equality when they put a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on Minnesota’s 2012 ballot. That jump-started a statewide conversation, and the measure was defeated.

“I think there was somewhat of a backlash around the fact that they would try to put something so bigoted into the Constitution,” said Clark.

New Organization Was Created

Minnesotans United for All Families, founded by OutFront Minnesota and Project 515. OutFront, headed by Monica Meyer, began in the 1980s as the Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council. Project 515 – whose name references the number of state laws that discriminated against same-sex couples by denying access to marriage – formed in 2006; Ann Kaner-Roth is executive director.

Richard Carlbom was hired as director of Minnesotans United, earning widespread accolades for his management of the campaign.

To Clark and Dibble, the “storytelling” focus of the anti-amendment effort was key. Minnesotans United emphasized personal stories of love, commitment and mutual responsibility. Ads featured Minnesotans talking about their lesbian neighbors or their gay kids. Research from other states indicated that focusing on rights, benefits and discrimination hadn’t worked.

“This is definitely a civil rights issue – it’s important to emphasize that,” said Clark. “But when you put a human face on civil rights issues, people understand better.”

Added Dibble: “The other side was masters of deceit and distraction. But we would always pivot back to love and commitment. Marriage is about rights – but it’s really about falling in love and building a life with someone.”

To Clark, whose Minneapolis district includes the Phillips neighborhood, the two 2012 ballot questions – the same-sex marriage ban and also a Voter ID requirement – are linked.

“I represent a lot of people who really needed both of those to be defeated,” she said. “Having both on the ballot created an informal coalition and added a sense of urgency.”

Asked about the impact of the marriage legislation, Clark pointed out that it’s akin to passing many laws simultaneously, since it addresses so many aspects of life. “It encompasses health care rights, pension laws, adoption,” she said. “Every family has their own story about why this legislation is important.”

Dibble and his husband, Richard Leyva, wed in California (“during that little 2008 window” before Proposition 8 passed). At midnight on Aug. 1, their marriage automatically became legal in Minnesota. On their anniversary, they renewed their vows.

Clark and Jacquelyn Zita – partners of nearly 25 years – are engaged but haven’t set a date. “It’ll be a low-key family event,” Clark said. “And it will be wonderful.”

Several organizations worked together for marriage equality, including:
• Minnesotans United for All Families
 is a coalition of organizations dedicated to defeating the proposed constitutional amendment that would have limited the freedoms of Minnesotans and banned marriage for same-sex couples in Minnesota.
• Freedom to Marry is the campaign to win marriage nationwide for all loving and committed couples.
• Human Rights Campaign is the United States’ largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.
• OutFront Minnesota is the central statewide organization leading a multiyear campaign for marriage in Minnesota.
• Project 515 is a focused initiative with a specific, achievable goal: to ensure that same-sex couples and their families have equal rights and considerations under Minnesota law.
Source: www.freedomtomarry.org


Marriage: next steps
• Elections: 
Minnesotans United has formed a political action committee (MN United PAC) to help re-elect legislators who supported marriage equality: mnunited.org/
• Fighting discrimination: “For a while we’ll be somewhat on the defensive,” Dibble said. “There’ll be a push to let businesses (such as caterers, photographers, florists, venues) discriminate against LGBT couples who are marrying, so we’re going to contend with that.” Contact your legislator to oppose this type of discrimination: www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/ districtfinder.aspx