The Winding Way to Marriage Equality

On the evening of May 21st , during a marathon weekend session, the Minnesota House of Representatives voted 70-62 to place an amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman on the November, 2012 ballot. As the senate has already passed this amendment it will be on the ballot for voters to decide during the general election.
It was an amazing week at the capitol as citizens opposing the amendment gathered to protest and provide witness to the unjust outcome that was at stake. Progressive Jews and other people of faith were counted notably among those gathered. As the Star Tribune reported, Minneapolis rabbis Michael Adam Latz, Jared Saks, Melissa Simon and Marcia Zimmerman led a Havdalah service in the capital rotunda on Saturday evening as the House debate on the amendment continued. (The Strib published a powerful image that is available here, at least for now.)
I have previously written about why I see this amendment is bad law and why it is inconsistent with Jewish values.  Now that the amendment will be on the ballot, we are entering an 18-month period of public debate on what has now become a red-hot wedge issue that will be entangled with party politics during a presidential election year. If Minnesota’s campaign is consistent with what has happened in other states, there will be large amounts of money flowing into the state to convince voters to support or oppose the amendment. There will be ads that seek to trigger fear and anger, messages that are tinged with hate and messages that misrepresent the facts.
There will be plenty of divisive rhetoric coming from both sides of this issue. I hope and pray that the fundamental fairness that has characterized Minnesota’s political and civil discourse across the decades will serve as a check against division. But because emotions and cynicism are running so high, I am doubtful that the debate in Minnesota will break the national pattern. I can only hope that the movement to oppose the amendment remains grounded in principle and strives to respond to the mud that will surely be slung with calm and measured responses. Marriage is fundamentally about love, and those of us who believe that it must be available to all Minnesotans will be well served to respond as lovingly as we can. I am heartened to see that this has been the nature of the pro-marriage equality response so far.
A Jewish Blueprint for Action
Our Jewish history, traditions and faith provide a strong foundation for fighting injustice. Rabbi Saks shared a powerful story of holy political engagement in these pages late last week. We can also turn to the lived example of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who famously prayed with his feet as he marched against racial injustice in Alabama. Rav Heschel wrote, “It is not enough to be concerned for the life to come. Our immediate concern must be with justice and compassion in life here and now, with human dignity, welfare and security.” (Central Conference of American Rabbis. Mishkan T’Fillah (2007), p. 73).  At its core, marriage serves to promote human dignity by providing companionship, and provides welfare and security for couples and families through mutual support.
A grass-roots protest movement that aspired to stop passage of the marriage amendment has likely become the genesis of the movement that will aim to convince Minnesotans to vote to reject injustice and hate. Minnesotans who support marriage equality have several ways to come together to engage in this work. There are two new groups that have emerged in recent days to advocate for marriage equality that merit attention:

Minnesotans United for All Families has taken a leading role in the dialogue on Facebook and Twitter, with more than 3,700 individual “Likes” on Facebook in just a couple of days.

[MN] Love: is encouraging individuals to lend their voice to the debate. They have begun a campaign that is using images of Minnesotans who support marriage equality. On June 3rd they will be holding a fundraiser at William Mitchell College of the Law, and will have a booth at the Twin Cities Pride festival. At both events, the public will have an opportunity to have their photos taken as a part of the education campaign.

Outfront Minnesota and Project 515, have been central to advocating for marriage equality and will be continuing this work. They continue to need the assistance and support of anyone who supports marriage equality in Minnesota.
Forward, Together
Jewish philosopher Michael Walzer wrote in his 1985 treatise Exodus and Revolution a text that is used today as a prayer in the Reform siddur:

Standing on the parted shores of history,

we still believe what we were taught

before ever we stood at Sinai:

that wherever we are, it is eternally Egypt

that there is a better place, a Promised Land;

that the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness

that there is no way to get from here to there

except by joining hands, marching


The way to November 6, 2012 will be long and winding, and there will no doubt be moments of distress, despair, and perhaps hopelessness. We can choose to join hands with people of faith, and people of good will, and focus our vision on a Minnesota that validates the existence of all of its families. We can proudly proclaim our conviction that all people are made in the image of God, and that it is not good for us to be alone. We can make this the moment that will change the course of our state, and perhaps the world, as we affirm that legal recognition of all loving couples is right, and good and just.
Image: Simon Scott Stromberg Photography & [MN] Love (with permission).