For the Rev. Jan Bodin, it was an easy decision. The Fairbault, Minn. pastor is welcoming a tour group to her church, and is hosting a performance about marriage equality on Wednesday May 1. The Project 515's production of "515 — The Tour!" has been designed to make the audience aware of some the state's 515 laws that deny same-sex couples the same rights and freedoms as heterosexual couples.
"A lot of the congregation now is very welcoming of LGBT folk, so it's really changed the face of who we are," said Bodin, pastor at Congregational Church UCC in Fairbault. "And it's important to take this stand for justice because discrimination should not be allowed to stand."
Minnesotans United For All Families, a campaign group in the state advocating for marriage equality, will send a half-dozen people to be part of the 45-minute performance. The show's actors demonstrate real-life scenarios of how some of the 500-plus laws restrict LGBT couples from the same rights and freedoms as heterosexual couples.
The Wednesday night performance at Congregational Church in Fairbault is free and open to the public. The Project 515 Education Campaign is a Minnesota nonprofit that works to teach citizens about the laws that affect same-sex couples in Minnesota.
Project 515 first contacted Bodin about a month ago to inquire about hosting a performance, and the congregation's trustees and diaconate unanimously agreed, she said. After the show, there's a Q&A segment where audience members can ask about issues and how some of the scenarios affect communities.
"My congregation has identified itself as an Open and Affirming congregation," said Bodin, who has been pastor at Congregational Church for a little more than three years. "About three years ago we hung a rainbow banner outside the church. People come by on a regular basis to get their picture taken in front of the banner, and it's fascinating to me."
Minnesota became the first state to vote down a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriages in November 2012, but that decision didn't give LGBT couples the right to marry. So, the debate on the issue hasn't gone away.
A recent poll indicates that 51 percent of Minnesotans favored changing the state's definition of marriage to one man and one woman, idea while 47 percent are opposed to changing the law. The state legislature will likely consider a bill by the end of May that would allow LGBT couples full marriage equality.
Bodin thinks that "Fairbault has been targeted because it may be a swing target area," she said. The city of about 23,000 people is about a one-hour drive south of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Bodin describes it as "incredibly conservative."
The UCC's General Synod affirmed full marriage equality for all couples in 2005, and there are now more than 1,000 open and affirming churches registered with the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns.
Three other states (Illinois, New Jersey and Delaware) are also considering marriage equality legislation. There are 10 states, along with Washington, D.C., that permit same-sex marriages: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.