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Column - Minnesota proves it's truly 'the progressive state'

Congratulations are in order for the Minnesota Legislature, which approved a historic same-sex marriage bill last week. Minnesota now joins 11 other states that have legalized same-sex marriage. Delaware and Maryland approved their laws just two weeks ago.

Hats off to people like Pastor Scott Keehn of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, Alexandria, who was at the state Capitol when the House vote was taken. In the May 17 Alexandria Echo Press, Keehn stated, "All this really does is expand the definition of marriage to include loving couples who had been excluded. It's about granting civil and social rights."

Yes, exactly.

Many of the Democrats who voted for the bill are from rural districts where opposition to same-sex marriage is strongest. Those representatives showed courage and conviction in voting according to their conscience, in doing what they felt is the right thing to do -- allowing access to basic rights for all Minnesotans.

Sen. Bill Ingrebrigtsen of Alexandria voted against the bill. In the same Echo Press story cited above, he was quoted as saying, "It was a sad (day) in Minnesota. This legislation will forever change the sacred bond that is shared when two people are married. I proudly voted no, showing that mothers and fathers are still an important part of our society."

Ingebrigtsen obviously hasn't done his homework. Many gay women and men are, in fact, mothers and fathers.

Also voting against the bill from the greater Alexandria area were Torrey Westrom (Elbow Lake), Mary Franson (Alexandria) and Paul Anderson (Starbuck).

The same-sex marriage bill is one of those landmark sea changes in which the people are clearly ahead of their elected legislators. Just last year, voters rejected a bid to make legal marriage between a man and woman only. Those legislators who voted against the same-sex marriage bill will probably have a change of heart, once they realize that, in reality, same-sex marriage is not going to spell doom to cherished institutions or rip apart the moral fabric of society, as some like to claim.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Mpls). She said her goal was always equal treatment in state laws for same-sex couples. In a speech, she mentioned her own family members' strong support for her when she revealed her sexual preference to them years ago.

"My family knew first-hand that same-sex couples pay our taxes, we vote, we serve in the military, we take care of our kids and our elders and we run businesses in Minnesota," Clark said.

Another powerful statement came from Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), one of the four Republicans who voted for the bill in the House. Loon said she made up her mind only while hearing testimony during the House debate on the issue.

"There comes a time," she said, "when you just have to set politics aside and decide in your gut what is the right thing to do."

There has always been polarized feelings about the same-sex marriage issue, and there probably always will be, though opposition seems to be waning, giving way to rational acceptance. Many sincerely object to it on religious grounds, but it should be remembered the law does not force churches to marry same-sex couples. A series of polls in recent years show an increasing support for same-sex marriage, especially among younger people. The increase in support could well stem partly from the weakness of the arguments against same-sex marriage, that somehow it would demean or ruin marriage as an institution. That argument is simply not a compelling one, especially when marriage is considered as a civil right.

The military now allows gays to serve their country. Minnesota's historic step is yet another victory for human rights. It will not be the last as more states and possibly even the U.S. Congress, sooner rather than later, will finally recognize full marriage rights for all Americans.

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Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at