Minneapolis, Minnesota

The advance of same-sex marriage around the globe gained major traction during the first 18 days of May, as Rhode Island became the 10th U.S. state to legislate in favor on May 2, followed by Delaware on May 7. On May 14, the National Council of Justice in Brazil voted 14-to-1 to require notaries public to register same-sex marriages. On May 18, France became the 14th country to legalize gay nuptials when its president signed earlier legislation that had been challenged in court.

In Minnesota, the state House of Representatives voted for marriage equality, 75-to-59, on May 9, followed by the state Senate, 37-to-30, on May 13.

Minnesota State Capitol May 14, 2013

Minnesota State Capitol
May 14, 2013

At 4:10pm on Tuesday, May 14, I stood on the corner of 6th Street and Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis to board an express bus to the State Capitol, 10 miles distant on the edge of downtown St. Paul. Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton, was scheduled to sign the new legislation at a 5pm ceremony on the Capitol steps. It will take effect August 1.

I was not alone.

A friend, Christopher, and one of his friends were waiting at the corner, attired in black-and-white “Marry Us” t-shirts generated by the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus. Other men and women sported various shirts from the 2012 campaign to defeat the amendment to Minnesota’s constitution that would have banned gay marriage in the state. Jerry and Travis already were on the bus when we boarded.

We moved through downtown’s rush hour traffic, picking up fellow travelers until packed, cheek by jowl, with no room for more. We represented a wide range of ages, with the majority clearly being part of the Millennial Generation, people born since 1980. If most of us gay baby boomers had raised kids, they would be part of this cohort: folks who generically hold the world in the palm of one hand while they reach to touch and create their experience of it with the other.

It was an excited, but relaxed, happy ride. One fellow nearby remarked that “Most of my exes will probably be there – this could get interesting.” I observed that he could probably handle it unless all of them arrived together.

Rolling along the I-94 freeway shoulder, I found myself reflecting about how many years we had been riding and about all the people who had missed this bus. I included my former, 16-year-old self: that ridiculous kid trying to find and understand others like himself in the cocoon of Sutton’s bar in 1968 Minneapolis.

There were the gay men and drag queens, whose grainy images may be found in documentary films about the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, rounded up and herded into paddy wagons following police raids on gay bars. Some of those warriors still survive, but most have passed on.

There was Thomas, a Minnesotan of my acquaintance, who was fired from his job as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill when I worked there in 1971; years later, I read in the newspaper that his body had been fished out of Baltimore’s harbor. There were friends and acquaintances, like Ankha, who died by their own hands. John Chenoweth, a former Minnesota state senator, and Earl Craig, one of our civil rights activists, were murdered in 1991 and 1992, respectively, like many others over the years – and still this week on the streets of New York City.

There were, of course, the countless souls lost to AIDS, recognized at the first unfolding of the AIDS Quilt on the National Mall, October 11, 1987, and since.

All of them returned to mind last evening as I listened to the words of Mozart’s “Requiem” at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Minneapolis:

Sacrifices and prayers of praise, Lord, we offer to You.

Receive them in behalf of those souls we commemorate today.

And let them, Lord, pass from death to life,

which was promised to Abraham and his descendants.

The debate on the floor of the Minnesota House, May 9, had inspired awe. The outcome of the vote there was not certain until the roll was taken and closed. Many of the 134 members gave emotional voice to the higher angels of their natures and their callings to public service.

The Senate debate last Monday also had much of that, but with half as many members as the House and the outcome certain, its speeches lasted longer and  were more painful and difficult to hear. Power and privilege do not yield without a fierce fight.

With their backs against the wall, many opponents averred that “I am not a bigot,” “I am not a homophobe,” and “I am not a hater” before giving voice-and-vote evidence to the contrary. Many of us listening from our workplaces and elsewhere recognized the denial and kept a running commentary with each other in Facebook chats. We have seen and heard it all before in our schools, workplaces, houses of worship, and halls of government from people who ultimately do not believe in a shared humanity.

People with “sincerely and deeply held beliefs” insisting on their religious freedom but finding endless justification for denying it to others. Folks believing all of us should embrace the full responsibilities of citizenship and having no compunction about denying many of the rights and privileges that should accompany the responsibilities. Parents professing love and concern for “the children” but voting against the future happiness of their own children or those of their friends and relatives.

With strokes of a pen under a sun-drenched sky on Tuesday afternoon, Governor Dayton gave all of Minnesota’s citizens the freedom to marry the person they love and, as importantly, of their choice.

The signing ceremony and subsequent parade and open-air concert at downtown’s Ecolab Plaza spanned five hours of joyful celebration and inaugurated a new era in all of our relationships with each other.

As James Davies, my partner of 30 years, and I broke bread with friends that evening, one of them, Mark, asked, “I may be naive, but with this done, is there anything more that we still need to do to secure equal rights for gay people?”

Certainly, if we need to bat clean-up on the state level, there are people who will let us know what needs to be done. We have the small matter of getting 38 other states and the federal government right with God. Around the world, we must defeat the state-sanctioned thugs who squelch anything gay on the streets and in the statutes of Russia, the state-sanctioned religious objections of the United Kingdom, and the evangelical missionaries sent from the U.S. to advocate the death penalty for gay people in Nigeria and elsewhere.

Closer to home, as the aspirations of immigrant, Muslim people seek expression and realization in Minnesota, we must meet and assimilate into their world views the tenants of our civic creeds, enshrined in our constitution and laws.

One of the speakers on the Capitol Mall last Tuesday was a physician, attended by his husband-to-be and their twin children. He told of making his early rounds of the newborns at the hospital that morning. As he moved among them, he realized that they would grow up knowing from the outset all the possibilities of their hearts.

That prologue for those and all newborns is the true legacy and real revolution wrought by the bus to St. Paul. For that, all that is past can be forgiven.

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