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.”
A 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.