by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor
The second historic day at the State Capitol for marriage equality began early Monday, May 13, in the sunshine for supporters and opponents of gay marriage legislation.
As was the case last Thursday – the day the House voted 75-59 to adopt a gay marriage bill – those on both sides of the issue often demonstrated side by side and peacefully. The crowds were unevenly balanced with more wearing the orange shirts, the attire of those carrying the “I support the freedom to marry” message.
Two brothers from Dayton held their “It takes a man and woman” placards as supporters mostly representing Minnesota for Marriage. Sergy Aponchik was reluctant to reveal his name as he protested publicly.
“I’m trying to protect the family, and to protect the family, it takes a man and a woman,” he said.
Sergy’s brother Paul was called out on his “Don’t erase mom and dads” sign by a defender of the gay marriage legislation.
“I’m not depriving anyone of their rights; I just believe children should have a mom and a dad,” Paul said.
Christy Lillebridge of Minneapolis said today’s Senate debate means that “finally, we are stopping injustices of hiding behind bullying and bigotry.” She said this legislative debate is “about a lot more than just marriage.”
Security again was tight and a Minnesota trooper and his bomb-sniffing dog were making a sweep of the Senate Chambers just before 11 a.m. The Senate was due in at noon and expected to debate the issue for three hours or more.
Supporters of Minnesotans United for All Families were busy customizing signs on the south Capitol steps. Just before 9:30 a.m., the members of the group moved indoors and began their demonstrating in the Capitol rotunda.
Luke Stang, 10, of River Falls, Wis., in a lively manner displayed his homemade sign supporting gay marriage. It read: “Love Makes a Family, VOTE YES.”
Richard Carlbom, head of the Minnesota United Vote No campaign last year against the amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, took time in front of the Capitol to pose with young supporters of the marriage legislation.
Singing was a popular mode of having opinions heard. Many on the Capitol steps, mostly those with orange shirts, sang a soft rendition of “America the Beautiful.” As demonstrators moved inside, they sang other messages.
A large GLBTA (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Allies) choir sang many songs in support of the bill. The choir was directed by Jane Ramsmeyer Miller of St. Paul.
Pointing to their allied support, Colleen Watson of St. Paul jokingly said, “We ask them not to flaunt their lifestyle or do any recruiting.”
Only 100 feet away, Tatyance Skrynnik of Brooklyn Park was talking on a cellphone and holding a “One Man, One Woman” sign. She said she was trying to find someone to work her afternoon shift so she could remain at the Capitol. Skrynnik said she was protesting what some are trying to change: “something we have had for thousands of years.”
Singing was also taking place in the Great Hall area of the Capitol where opponents were completing a rally by singing “How Great is Our God.” The song was led by Bob Headley, pastor of Maranatha Church in Forest Lake. His brother Bill, also a pastor in the Chisago Lakes area, led a group of about 125 in organized prayer.
Autumn Leva, director of government affairs and communications for Minnesota for Marriage, urged supporters of the Vote No movement to continue to pray and to talk to their senators. “Leave note for your senator,” Leva said.
“No matter what happens today, you were all here and your voices were heard,” Leva said.
John Helmberger, chairman of Minnesota for Marriage and chief executive officer of the Minnesota Family Council, said the conventional wisdom is that the Senate will adopt the same legislative language approved on Thursday by the House. He expressed displeasure with the rumor that a bill signing ceremony has already been arranged for 5 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday, May 14).
Helmberger encouraged supporters of Minnesota for Marriage “to pray for God to intervene and to manifest his glory.” He also urged Vote No demonstrators to keep their emotions in check.
“Let peace reign in our hearts and be exuded by us,” Helmberger said.
Bob Headley said “passage of the gay marriage legislation would cause religious liberties to be destroyed before our eyes.”
It appeared that only one Republican senator was planning to vote for the marriage equality legislation. That senator has long been identified as Sen. Brandon Peterson, R-Andover. It is possible other Republicans might vote for the same-sex marriage bill.
Jake Loesch, communications director for Minnesotans United for All Families, said last Thursday’s vote and today’s anticipated favorable Senate vote both represent very large steps forward.
“Supporters on both sides are remaining positive and respectful, emphasizing love, commitment and family,” Loesch said.
Howard Lestrud can be reached at [email protected]