'It's legal in Iowa. What's wrong with Minnesota?'

Sunday, 200 people showed up in support of Dakota County Votes No, a new organization aimed at defeating a proposed constitutional amendment banning marriage between gays and lesbians.

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For one Dakota County couple, the struggle for "Freedom to Marry" predates the Minnesota Marriage Amendment by over four decades. 

“It’s déjà vu. This is sheer ignorance and pride—just like 45 years ago,” said Thea Harriday, an Apple Valley resident who met her husband, an African American, over 43 years ago.

At the time, less than a decade had gone by since the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in 1967 (Loving v. Virginia). 

Though Minnesota was one of a handful of state that had never enacted laws forbidding interracial marriage, the social stigma against it was strong. Harriday said her family disowned her and over 200 relatives living in the Twin Cities boycotted the wedding—an especially painful reminder of the prejudice that surrounded the young couple. Many years would go by before the Harridays' marriage was recognized in all 50 states.

After four decades, Harriday’s family has come around and many have apologized, but she doesn’t want her own daughter, a lesbian, to have to endure the same hatred and societal censure she did.

Harriday's ordeal is similar to what Miryam Kabakov experienced when she and her partner made their relationship official with a commitment ceremony. Kabakov is one of six siblings in a tight-knit Jewish family, which was held together by her mother, a “master of inclusion and making space for people to live out their lives freely and happily, however differently.” However, this broke down when some of Kabakov’s siblings refused to come to her commitment ceremony.

Kabakov felt the wound deeply until her mother’s shiva, a traditional Jewish week of mourning, when her father handed her a piece of paper and simply said “Don’t cry.”

It was a letter to her sister her late mother wrote telling her, "You’re wrong for not being there for Miryam. There was a time when we hoped that she would be different but that time has passed. She is who she is and she deserves to live as much of a religious life as you."

"Of course I cried. I had no idea that my mother had written this letter on my behalf until she was gone,” said Kabakov, an author from St. Paul and member of Mendota Heights’ Beth Jacob congregation.  

Years later, Kabakov and her sister reconciled.

“On the one hand my mother’s dream for me was fulfilled. I have a life filled with blessings: Children, a loving partner and a very supportive community,” Kabakov said. “However, she did not live to see me enjoy other freedoms that so many of us take for granted. My partner and I never lived in a state where we could get married.”

Given their own history, Harriday, Kabakov and others sprang into action when the legislature presented the amendment to the governor’s office. Harriday and two of her daughters have joined Dakota County Votes No, an aggressive new campaign to rally locals against the Marriage Amendment.

“People should be able to marry the people they love. (Being LGBT) is not a choice,” Harriday said. “And these are the same people who say the government should stay out of our personal lives.”

“It’s legal in Iowa,” Harriday added. “What’s wrong with Minnesota?”

On Sunday, Dakota County Votes No staged its first major event at , though the movement has been quietly gaining steam since the GOP-controlled legislature pushed the measure through last year. Dakota County Votes No grew out of smaller grassroots efforts by local residents and faith groups, said Veda Kanitz, a member of Burnsville’s and a science teacher at Rosemount High School. She said Open Circle jumped into the fray after the bill was passed last year. They church hosted weekly events and staged house parties to rally against the amendment. Each week attendance grew slowly but steadily, Kanitz said, from 10 to 20 to 30 people.

“We’re holding this kickoff to energize our base, get people out to vote and start meaningful conversation about this amendment,” Kanitz said Sunday.

At this point, public opinion seems to be split down the middle, said Kim Hansen, an Inver Grove Heights resident who serves as the regional organizing director for the south metro area.

“We know this is close and it’s going to remain close,” Hansen said. “We feel that with our strategy, which focuses on deeply relational stories, we can sway undecided voters.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune poll in November of last year revealed a divide of 48 percent in favor of the amendment while 43 percent opposed adding the amendment. According to the article, the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent, making the issue a virtual tie with the undecided voters critical to both sides. 

If the measure is defeated here, Minnesota would be bucking a national trend.

Currently, gay marriage is legal in only six states. In other referendums, measures defining marriage as union that can only be entered into between one man and one woman have passed handily. Of the 29 state amendments on the books, an amendment banning same-sex marriages has garnered an average of 68 percent support from the public at the polls.

South Dakota in 2006 (52 percent supported adopting a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages) and California’s Proposition 8 (also 52 percent) in 2008 have been the closest a ban has come to being defeated at the ballot box.

Amendment approvals in Alabama, Tennessee (both 81 percent in 2006), and Mississippi (86 percent in 2004) have been the largest landslides in the gay marriage debate.

Nevertheless, organizers at Dakota County Votes No hope to turn the tide against the amendment by November, when the proposal will go before Minnesota voters during the general election.

Dakota County Votes No will move into its new headquarters in Eagan this week. The group will set up shop in an office off of Cliff Road and I-35 E, at 1964 Rahncliff Road. As soon as the water is turned on, they will begin their campaign in earnest, with a phone bank on Thursday.

Emma Hathaway May 01, 2012 at 02:48 PM
By accepting gay marriage, it forces many changes. It forces a change in our vocabulary of greeting, Mr & Mrs, Mr & Mr, Mrs & Mrs... just to start with. ( Please get offended right now because I don't know how to address you and yours or how to address that envelope). Civil Unions give a couple most of the rights that are being cried for, the others such as health insurance, can be mandated by the government to accept "plus one" or family coverage (which several already do). The tax code can recognize Civil Unions as joint filers. So I don't have to change my what I believe in and my system of communication does not need to be drastically altered.
Clare Kennedy May 01, 2012 at 05:52 PM
But would the legislature allow even civil unions? What do you guys think?
Jill Lafferty May 01, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Really Emma? You would prevent two people who love each other from forming a legally recognized lifetime commitment because you can't figure out how to address them? (Hint: if you don't know how someone prefers to be addressed, the polite thing is to ask them.) And on the issue of insurance and other legal protections, I would ask you, if you are married, did you marry your spouse because you wanted health insurance? Or a tax break? Or did you marry because that's what people in our society do when they love each other and want to be together for the rest of their lives? When my husband and I went through our premarital counseling 16 years ago, the first thing the pastor asked was if we "had" to get married. He didn't mean it, though, in the shotgun wedding sense. His point was that when you've met the person you are meant to be with for life, you "have" to get married. To deny a group of people that right is cruel and unconstitutional.
Wade Haynes May 01, 2012 at 10:37 PM
It is effectively a ban, Dick. What's happening here is one group of conservative legislators is proposing a redundant amendment to force their own religious beliefs on people. I always chuckle when you guys use the "to secure what is already in Minnesota law" argument. What does that mean? The legislative and judicial branches already function slowly and deliberately in our legal system. And it's good that they do. What you are talking about is an obstructionist tactic designed to gum up the political process and preclude any possible change in law. That's your tactic. Let's be honest now.
Veda Kanitz May 02, 2012 at 12:12 AM
I think love is love and telling someone they can have a civil union is like saying you can ride the bus, just sit in the back.


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