Politics is the art of the possible
Easily, one of the most contentious and public pieces of legislation in the 2013 session of the Minnesota legislature will be a proposal to repeal a portion of Minn. Stat. sec. 517.03 – specifically, the language that precludes marriage recognition from same-sex couples. Complicating matters is the odious Defense of Marriage Act, and its current unknown status in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Suffice it to say, there are many moving parts.
As a gay man, my perspective on this is as torn as any progressive. I want to be encumbered with the same responsibilities of marriage as any Minnesotan. And with the DFL soon at the helm of the entire Minnesota legislature, and the Governor’s mansion, this possibility seems tantalizingly within reach. However, all political parties are coalitions, I cannot think of a better issue to divide the three letters that make up the party’s abbreviation as same-sex marriage.
Tom Bakk’s piquant, and needlessly terse “real liberal consistencies” notwithstanding, he is acutely aware that he will be responsible for successfully steering several pieces of critical legislation in the 2013 session. Among them, he will need to pass a budget bill that will surely be attacked constantly and enthusiastically by legislative Republicans and their acolytes, a bill authorizing and directing a robust state-level exchange vis-à-vis the Affordable Care Act, some kind of election/voting reforms recommended by the Secretary of State, and likely other bills that Governor Dayton will ask of the legislature. He may not have much capital to spend after this effort…or goodwill, for that matter – although Bakk seems to possess the rare ability to burn through favor before a session starts.
So…what does this all mean for the prospects of passing a bill legalizing the recognition of same-sex marriage? Well, any honest assessment says it’s an uphill battle, and that’s probably putting it mildly. But we also need to acknowledge that for GLBT Minnesotans, this legislature is poised to do great good for us in many respects.
I mentioned a robust state-level exchange. Even in 2012, men who have sex with men (MSM in the medical vernacular) remain the highest subgroup living with HIV in Minnesota. I personally know more than a handful of them, and I count several of them as friends. For them, legislative action to strengthen existing state health care programs, and create the exchange, may help furnish vitally important health coverage.
The children of GLBT families deserve good schools, no matter what corner of the North Star State we live in. This legislature has an opportunity to create a responsible mechanism for repayment of the GOP’s embarrassing K-12 funding shift of 2011, and make sure Minnesota’s children, gay or straight, have the best education we can give them.
The fight for marriage equality is one part of the fight to live the same kind of life all straight Minnesotans currently enjoy, and far too often, take for granted. This legislature is set to make strides in that effort, and passing legislation that compels third-party recognition for our unions can also be a big, but not final, step in that struggle. Civil unions are not enough. But with the exception of 2012, our state has not been kind to the legal status of GLBT Minnesotans, from Baker v. Nelson to the 1997 statutory language excluding us from marriage. We should take up our next legal fight, work hard for what we know is right, and know that no matter what, know we left nothing on the field when the legislature adjourns sine die.
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