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Marriage Equality in Minnesota: One Year Later


Through the support of the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota, Project 515 Education Campaign was able to provide educational outreach throughout Minnesota, education which provided the foundation for the freedom to marry in 2013. With that success, Project 515 was able to declare mission accomplished in May 2014, closing its doors on June 30, 2014. One year after the passage of Freedom to Marry, we have invited the leadership of Project 515 to reflect on this landmark change in Minnesota.

Jake Blumberg: August 1 is an incredible anniversary for many Minnesotans. And it is a special anniversary for us as well, as two of many leaders in Minnesota’s fight for marriage equality. One year ago today, at the stroke of midnight, then-Mayor R.T. Rybak pronounced Margaret Miles and Cathy Ten Broeke, with the power finally vested in him, legally married. That statement was made in the rotunda of Minneapolis City Hall, which was packed to the rafters with Minnesotans celebrating with Margaret and Cathy, and then Jeff and Al, and then Harvey and Phil, and on and on and on, all through the night. Buzzfeed did an excellent post showcasing 75 beautiful moments that night, and we still tear up looking through them.

Ann Kaner-Roth: There were a lot of moments that led up to that night. There was the 2010 election, which led to an anti-equality majority, and a potential marriage ban ballot measure. There was the night of May 21, 2011, when the Minnesota Legislature passed the marriage ban ballot measure sending it to the 2012 ballot. That night, Monica Meyer and I launched Minnesotans United for All Families. To be honest, success was uncertain, but we were committed to doing everything we could do to give us the best chance of defeating this unnecessary constitutional amendment.

Jake: Election Night 2012 is one I’ll never forget. Watching Maine, Maryland and Washington State win marriage equality earlier that night gave all of us a lot of hope, and we could see that the returns were breaking our way. But at 1:45 a.m. when campaign manager Richard Carlbom let us know the AP had called the election and we’d won. There were a lot of tears that night. 2012 was a huge milestone in the marriage movement, and Minnesota, as the first state to beat a marriage ban ballot measure, was the crowning achievement for the nation.

Ann: We now knew marriage equality was a real possibility for Minnesota. We knew we had the momentum with us and there was no time to lose. Led by leaders from Project 515 and OutFront Minnesota, we began the legislative campaign that six months later led to a marriage equality bill signed by Governor Mark Dayton on May 14, 2013. The crowd of 7,000 was something never seen before at the Minnesota State Capitol, and the joy from the crowd permeated all throughout the Capitol grounds, spilling out into downtown St. Paul for a huge celebration hosted by the City.

Jake: That day led to all of the planning to make the night of August 1, 2013 the most incredible wedding celebration ever. Watching the first Minnesota couples have their relationships legally recognized at long last – for some couples, after decades-long relationships – was a beautiful thing. And we knew at that moment that we were witnessing the turn of the tide for marriage equality in the United States.

Ann: And without question, the tide has turned. The U.S. v. Windsor decision on June 26, 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court created even more momentum behind the 12 states that had legalized marriage equality by providing federal benefits to married same-sex couples, regardless of where they lived. The choice of the Obama administration to trigger federal benefits via the “place of celebration” versus the “place of domicile” meant that couples could travel to a marriage state to marry, return home and still receive federal recognition and benefits.

Jake: Since the moment marriage equality was implemented in Minnesota, the impact has been clear.

  • David and Jonathan*, who were married in Canada the year prior, were able to apply for a green card for the spouse with Canadian citizenship – that process was successfully expedited, and Jonathan is now a legal U.S. citizen.
  • Carol and Jenny, who had a difficult and frightening experience with the birth of their first child, had no worries about both mothers being able to advocate for the well-being of their second child.
  • Mike and Bill, after a 20-year relationship, were finally allowed to pay both state and federal taxes as a married couple. They ended up paying more, and did so gladly.

Ann: And, Minnesota has led the way for many, many other states. In just the last year, we’ve almost doubled the number of states with legalized marriage for same-sex couples. In June, court decisions in Oregon and Pennsylvania brought us to 19 states, with over 43% of the country living in a marriage-equality state.

Jake: Public support has grown quickly, too. According to a May 2014 Gallop poll, national support for marriage equality has reached an all-time high of 55 percent. That includes 30 percent of Republicans and nearly 8 in 10 young adults from both parties.

Ann: The fight’s not over, of course. Although each of the last 24 (and counting!) court decisions have stated that marriage bans are unconstitutional, many of these cases are working their way towards the Supreme Court. The first of these cases, Utah’s Kitchen v. Herbert and Oklahoma’s Bishop v. Smith were recently heard in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and both will now seek to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Cases in Indiana, Virginia, Wisconsin and other states are likely not far behind.

Jake: Clearly, we’re in the final leg now of what has been both a long journey and a very fast paced chapter. Looking back, we could never have guessed how much progress would have been made in just one year. 2015 could be the year that the U.S. Supreme Court rules that marriage equality is the law of the land, and if not, that ruling is likely not far down the road.

Ann: Our generation is witnessing history in the making. Be sure not to blink – things are moving quickly on the marriage front!

Jake Blumberg was Interim Executive Director of Project 515 from January until June 2014 and also served as Co-Finance Director for Minnesotans United. He is currently the Development Director for Open Arms of Minnesota.

Ann Kaner-Roth served as the Executive Director of Project 515 from 2010-2014 and as Board Co-Chair for Minnesotans United. She now works for the National Marriage Campaign team of the national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), helping to bring marriage equality across the nation.

*All names have been changed.

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