“This is a human rights issue.”
That's how St. Louis Park resident Curt Peterson, who is gay, describes the debate at the state capitol over a bill that would allow Minnesota voters to decide whether a gay marriage ban should be added to the state constitution.
The debate has picked up intensity—and received national attention—in the last week following a by Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-District 44A), in which the St. Louis Park legislator asked, "How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God actually wants them around?" The speech, given in front of the House’s Civil Law Committee, has been viewed nearly 500,000 times on YouTube, but Simon’s impassioned opposition has not stopped the bill from going forward—on Wednesday, it passed the Senate, and it's expected to soon pass the House as well.
To Peterson, a constitutional ban on gay marriage is “ludicrous.”
“It’s made me really angry,” he said in regard to support for the bill. “What in the world are we talking about, that this is destroying the sanctity of marriage and this is somehow going to hurt the heterosexual community? It’s just laughable. It’s beyond understandable.”
But coupled with Peterson's anger is his pride for St. Louis Park. In January, the city became the eighth community in Minnesota to enact a , which allows domestic partners to register their relationships with the city. Peterson and his partner, Mike Skarp, registered about a month ago.
“It’s a step, and it’s a great first step,” Skarp said. “It feels so good to live in a community like St. Louis Park that takes the initiative to do this.”
The St. Louis Park ordinance doesn’t supersede any state or federal laws, nor does it grant gay and lesbian couples any new legal rights, but it's part of a growing push by the grassroots group OutFront Minnesota—one the advocacy organization hopes can help in the fight against a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Phil Duran, OutFront’s legal director, said having discussions in communities across Minnesota about enacting similar domestic partner ordinances could go a long way toward making the public more aware—and more tolerant—of gay people.
“The more conversations we have about the place of same-sex couples, the more people can realize that including them fully is the way to go,” Duran said.
There are now nine communities with ordinances like St. Louis Park’s, covering more than 1 million people, Duran said. The legal director said he hopes to add two more metropolitan cities to that list later this month.
Duran said OutFront will also continue to “pack the room” at the Capitol in opposition to the constitutional amendment proposal, and there are plans to ramp up efforts next year if the proposal makes it onto the 2012 ballot.
“We will be going from one end of Minnesota to the other saying how bad the proposal is,” Duran said.
Peterson also said he would fight. While his new domestic partner registration—a small, tan piece of paper he keeps in the kitchen—doesn’t grant him much in a practical sense, he said what it gives him is invaluable.
“This gives me nothing, in a real sense, but peace of mind of knowing I live in a city that recognizes and supports me and my partner.” Peterson said. “Peace of mind, though, is pretty damn important ... And if (the legislature) does something that takes this away, we have the right to be angry about it.”