by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor
It was indeed a historical day at the Minnesota State Capitol on Thursday, May 9, as remembrances of demonstrations of the 1960s were revived with support and opposition to right to marry legislation.
Same-sex marriage legislation was brought to the floor of the House of Representatives and passage was expected. House leadership said it would not bring the bill to the floor unless there were votes to pass it. Most of the “yes” votes have been speculated to be on the Democratic side.
Supporters and opponents of the right to marry legislation began showing up at the Capitol around 8 a.m. Thursday.
About an hour before the House was to convene at noon, the crescendo of supporters and opponents of the House same-sex marriage bill began to rise. The orange shirts of the Minnesotans United group, which supports the same-sex marriage bill, outnumbered those of the Minnesota for Marriage group, carrying signs proclaiming marriage as a commitment between a man and a woman.
“I am very disappointed that it has come to this,” Rosie Huray of Ham Lake said. “It is a sad day for Minnesota if marriage gets redefined,” she added.
Linda Harmon, New Brighton, carried a sign in opposition to the same-sex marriage bill and said she was upset that the laws our leaders brought forward in the past 155 years could be taken down by one vote. “We’re praying it won’t pass,” she said.
It was quite obvious during the early morning that security was highly enhanced. Minnesota State Trooper Jim Wellnitz walked the halls of the Capitol with Sunny, his yellow Labrador dog, a partner trained in sniffing out firearms and explosives. Thirty uniformed State Troopers were on the Capitol for Thursday’s eventful day.
Signs were posted on Capitol doors alerting people about capacity of the Capitol and the potential to be turned away from entrance. Areas were roped off near the House chambers.
Demonstrators peacefully vocalized their messages, chanting:
“Peace and love!”
“What do we want? Equal rights now!”
“No, no, no!”
At times demonstrators also erupted in singing Pete Seger’s well-known protest song, “Give Peace a Chance.”
For the most part, exchanges between the support and opposition groups was cordial. Advocates for each side of the debate stood side by side in their protests.
Minneapolis resident Ryan Richards, wearing a “I Support the Freedom to Marry” orange shirt, said he came to the Capitol to express his opinions about equality of marriage being a basic right.
“Fifty years down the line, those who were here on this historic day may say they were here but on the other side,” Richards said.
Richards and his wife Stephanie were married a year ago and both showed their support for gay marriage at that time by donating all of their bridal money gifts to Minnesotans United.
Cheryl Barber, another Twin Cities volunteer for Minnesotans United, said she and her partner Veronica are hoping to get married in August should the bill be signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton.
Barber also related the story of a lesbian couple hoping to get married in Minnesota where the one partner has a terminal disease and wishes to marry her partner soon.
Next to Richards and Barber stood Brenda Arguetta, who carried a graphics-loaded message against the right to marry legislation. She said she was demonstrating to defend what God has created, one man and one woman in marriage.
Her placard carried the Bible verse: “Let no one split apart what God has joined together.” (Mark 10:9)
The Rev. Thomas McCabe Lonsdale became actively involved in a discussion with a proponent of the same-sex marriage bill. His message referenced the Declaration of Independence referring to God’s laws of nature.
“Every human being comes from mom and a dad, so we need to support marriage,” McCabe said. “God is the supreme judge,” McCabe continued. Those who support gay marriage are distancing themselves from God, McCabe said.
Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, stopped by a group of gay marriage supporters, exchanging hugs and handshakes. “This is an issue widely and deeply felt,” Hornstein said.
Hornstein said it appeared that the votes were there to pass the bill, but cautioned: “You never know until we get on the floor,” he said. “My job is to represent my district and strongly support freedom to marry,” Hornstein said.
Carrying a “Vote No” placard from his wheelchair, Jim McCarthy of Blaine said he was visiting the Capitol to bring across his message that the bill is not in the best interests of all Minnesotans. He predicted litigation addressing free speech and freedom of religion. He was accompanied by wife Becky and brother Joe, Ham Lake.
Mara Poole of Stillwater brought her young children to become actively involved in the demonstration against gay marriage. Cordelia Poole, 2 1/2, carried a sign promoting marriage between a man and a woman.
The mood was strong in many camps, but it was soothed by a young group of charter school students from the Eagle Ridge Charter School in Eden Prairie who gathered in the entry way to the Capitol and sang a song, “There is a Laugh Inside of Me.” The students were at the Capitol attending a charter school essay contest awards program.
Howard Lestrud can be reached at [email protected]