by Senator Terri Bonoff, (DFL – Minnetonka), Minnesota State Senate. Sen. Bonoff is chairperson of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.
I was a proud co-author of the Minnesota Marriage Equality Law that recently passed in our legislative session that ended May 21. As many know, the law will take effect on August 1, 2013. August 1, is my birthday. On my 50th birthday the University Avenue bridge fell, making my birthday bittersweet in the years following. While I am a “holiday” gal, love to celebrate, sharing the day with those who lost so much has made the day also marked by sorrow.
I am pleased to mark my forthcoming birthday, with something to celebrate - marriage equality. As a Democrat from a western suburban district that leans Republican, I am truly a swing voter in every way. I not only represent swing voters I am fiercely independent myself - my votes on fiscal matters often line up with my colleagues on the other side. Yet on matters of social justice, I am clear where I stand. It is because of this that I believe I was asked to be a co-author. I told my community during the campaign that I would not vote to raise their income taxes, but I would vote to support marriage equality. I did not say, “Don’t vote for the constitutional amendment because it is not necessary - our laws dictate that only one man and one woman can marry.” Instead I said, “I am for marriage equality, and you?” There was no confusion in my community about where I stood -- I put it in newspaper surveys, on my website and spoke of it in debates.
My opponent and I both shared that we had gay brothers, yet he reached an alternative conclusion and believed that marriage was not necessary. Therefore, given my clear declarations along the way, I was emboldened to stand strongly during this session. I let people know that the budget was first- we owed the public a balanced budget before we tackled policy issues as it was a budget year in Minnesota. I did not agree with the budget as passed, but nonetheless felt as though we had kept our promise. Therefore, I supported bringing the marriage equality bill foreword in 2013 before the sessions end. I did so because I believe the community wanted this to happen -- we resoundingly defeated the constitutional amendment in Minnesota with a campaign that screamed, “FREEDOM TO MARRY.” The public had weighed in and they said yes to marriage equality. I thought that their courage should be matched by our legislative action.
I was particularly proud of Sen. Branden Petersen (R-Dist. 35). Branden is a 26-year-old fairly new legislator. He had served one term in the House before being elected to the Senate. Branden represents a Northern Suburb that is probably not for the new law. Yet Branden, a true member of the Millennium generation, acted with his heart and his values. Standing out as the “ONLY” Senate Republican who voted yes, Branden did more than that -- he was one of five co-authors. Having a Republican as a co-author was very meaningful in this effort. I was proud of his courage and his character. Minnesotans United for Marriage ran their campaign committed to some integral principles -- they embraced a big tent -- always were espousing the importance of a bi-partisan effort -- they welcomed young, old, wealthy, not so wealthy, corporate, independent, gay, straight and transgender to the conversation. Our five Senate co-authors reflected these principles -- Scott Dibble, chief author- talented, gay, change-maker, John Marty, passionate senator with a reputation for protecting liberty above all else, Tony Lourey, rural member and HHS Chair in the Senate, Branden, and myself the fiscally conservative Democrat from the a Republican district. Minnesotans for Marriage picked Messerli and Kramer to be their lobbying firm -- Messerli and Kramer is strong and in some ways Republican, or at least very moderate leaning. I think this too was part of that “big tent” strategy. Messerli and Kramer brought wisdom to the table and helped craft the winning strategy including who would be the authors.
In summary, being part of this historic occasion is truly an honor and a privilege. I have a birthday present I will always remember. I thank those who invited me to this party -- a party I will always cherish.