“I am a liberal and liberalism is the politics of kindness. Liberals stand for tolerance, magnanimity, community spirit, the defense of the weak against the powerful, love of learning, freedom of belief, art and poetry, city life, the very things that make America worth dying for.”
- Garrison Keillor
Oh, Minnesota. What has happened to you?
I’ll admit that I don’t closely follow all of the political activity of my home state, but there are certain things I take for granted. Like the fact that we were the only state Dukakis won, other than Massachusetts. But my, does that seem so long ago.
I was raised with the safe knowledge that I came from a liberal state, a place where tolerance and personal freedom and community responsibility were not only valued but exalted. I was proud that our Scandinavian ideas about social welfare made us attractive to those fleeing horrendous persecution. And I took to heart the general philosophy that you don’t know anyone’s struggles but your own, and you should probably keep quiet about those, anyway.
So what the hell, people? When did we become a state of uptight, moralistic, right-deniers? What insidious viral fear has taken over where kindness, or at least indifference, used to be?
I was actively involved in Minneapolis’s HIV/AIDS education and social action sphere during the early 1990s. While things weren’t perfect as far as gay/straight understanding went, I felt, overall, that I lived in an open, accepting community. I would have been astonished at that time if a constitutional amendment denying rights to same-sex couples had been supported by our state legislature. The fact that it is happening now, nearly twenty years later, is beyond heartbreaking.
When I dig past the heartbreak, there’s anger and shame. And the face of that anger and shame is grinning blankly from Fox News panel discussions. Seeing the words, “R – Minnesota” under Michele Bachmann’s crazy, crazy head is nearly enough to make me consider calling myself an Iowan. And now with the news of Tim Pawlenty’s bid for the presidential candidacy (T-Paw? Really? Douuuuuuche!), I feel like some sort of secret smear campaign has been invoked against the people of Minnesota. How did these two conservatives come to be our representatives on the national stage?
The answer is simple, I suppose. They were voted in. Somewhere along the line, the people who elected a poli sci professor in a green school bus to Senate and agreed to be governed by a libertarian wrestler (no link required) decided, hey, let’s try fascism. When the pendulum swings back, it swings hard. But I can’t help thinking that there’s also been some trickery involved.
My people are from small, rural towns, far from the Cities, and yet I know they don’t support the ideas that the state legislature claims they do. If the U.S. in general has polled in support of allowing gay marriage, there is simply no way for me to believe that Minnesotans are overwhelmingly against it. Some very misguided politicking is going on up there, with a lot of people suddenly jumping on the tea party boat so they won’t get called out by the narrowest-minded and loudest-voiced.
I cried when I heard of Sen. Paul Wellstone’s death, and I tear up now thinking that any part of his essence might be aware of what’s happened to Minnesota since his passing. I simply don’t understand it. I know fear can make people act against their better judgment (see: any slasher film, acceptance of George W. Bush after 9/11), but what, really, are Minnesotans afraid of? I’m sincerely trying to answer that question in a way that makes any sense, and the best I can come up with is that things are very uncertain and unstable right now, and clinging to what is known and understood can make that seem a little less scary.
But here’s the thing. Preventing gay marriage doesn’t make anything more secure, except the elected positions of fear-mongering politicians. It doesn’t stabilize the economy or improve the housing market or create new jobs. Quite the opposite, really – think of all the gay couples not hiring wedding planners and florists and harpists who cover Depeche Mode. And it doesn’t delete all the porn off the internet or stop your kids from sexting, either. Don’t equate the growing and occasionally disconcerting ease of access to sexual information with advances in human rights. I can promise you that it isn’t gay married couples sending Facebook friend requests to your 14-year-old.
Speaking of fear and fourteen-year-olds, let’s talk about what you really should be scared of. Be scared of your child separating herself from your family because she doesn’t think you can love who she is. Be scared of the ways your child will seek information if you refuse to acknowledge reality. Be scared of your child feeling so isolated and rejected for his sexuality that he feels ending his life is the only acceptable option.
Garrison Keillor wrote, “This is Democratic bedrock: we don't let people lie in the ditch and drive past and pretend not to see them dying.” Every gay citizen in Minnesota has been thrown in the ditch by this legislation. The constitutional amendment defining marriage as heterosexual monogamy goes to a vote of the people in November. My Minnesotans, don’t drive by.
Please click above to view Iraq war veteran Rep. John Kriesel's (R - Cottage Grove, MN) powerful speech to the Minnesota House on why he opposes the marriage amendment.
Postscript: I am no less angered by the neanderthals in Nashville, but the pain isn't compounded by ever daring to expect any different.