Bolstered by efforts of UCC pastors, Minnesota approaching marriage equality
Written by Anthony Moujaes May 10, 2013
UCC minister the Rev. Oby Ballinger, center, and the Rev. James Gertmenian join an interfaith rally for the freedom to marry on Valentine's Day in February 2013. Photo by Cate Nielsen.
Six months ago, Minnesota voters rejected a proposed ban on same-sex marriage, turning down a constitutional amendment. But that didn't give same sex couples the legal right to marry. On Thursday May 9, the state cleared its biggest hurdle in becoming the next state to support marriage equality when the Minnesota House voted in favor of a bill that would permit same-sex marriages. The rapid shift shows how quickly change can happen, said the Rev. Obadiah (Oby) Ballinger, a United Church of Christ minister in St. Paul, Minn. He also said the scenario is "no accident."
"People of faith in the United Church of Christ and other traditions had thousands of courageous, heartfelt conversations about our families, our faith, and the need for new laws," said Ballinger, pastor of Community UCC in St. Paul Park. "In my mind it's incredible vindication that coming out and talking about our families can make a difference."
Ballinger took a leave from his church to work with Minnesotans United For All Families on the campaign to defeat the amendment, then returned full-time as a pastor. His spouse, Javen, has continued to assist Minnesotans United For All Families and keeps Ballinger up-to-date on the progress.
"The congregation has been strongly in support of this when they heard the vote was coming this week," Ballinger said. "They were wishing me well and hoping it went well.
"It's good to know the intensity that started last year continued and helped them understand that the gay marriage conversation not only impacts the Capitol building, it impacts my life and thousands of others in Minnesota," Ballinger added.
The Minnesota House voted 75-59 in favor of the measure Thursday, May 9. The Minnesota Senate will vote on the bill Monday, though most observers agree it will likely pass, and Governor Mark Dayton has pledged to sign it. Once law, same-sex couples can be married in Minnesota beginning Aug. 1.
Supporters of marriage equality wasted little time in capitalizing on the momentum from defeating the amendment proposal. If everything falls into place Monday and the state senate passes the bill, Minnesota would be the first state in the Midwest to pass a same-sex marriage law through its state legislature. Iowa permits same-sex marriages because of a court ruling.
Minnesota could become the sixth state since November to affirm the right to marriage for all citizens, with Maine, Maryland and Washington all passing public referendums during the 2012 election season.
"I'm surprised and grateful it's moved so far so fast, and I'm also eager to have the conversation beyond marriage recognition for same-sex couples," Ballinger said. "While this came fast on the heels of the other, it's also overdue. It's time our communities start talking more fervently about things like education reform and gun violence prevention and poverty initiatives. That's one of the reasons I've stepped back some this year, to participate in those other concerns."
In the past two weeks, two other states have passed marriage equality legislation. Delaware's approval of marriage equality on May 7 came quickly on the heels of the actions of Rhode Island's lawmakers, who approved a state law in late April. In other parts of the country, Illinois and New Jersey are also considering marriage equality legislation. The pending laws might also be a reflection of how public opinion has changed on the issue of same-sex marriage.
In a Public Religion Research Institute survey, a majority (52 percent) of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, compared to 42 percent who are opposed. That survey also showed that along religious lines, more than 8-in-10 (81 percent) Jewish Americans, roughly three-quarters (76 percent) of religiously unaffiliated Americans, 59 percent of Hispanic Catholics, 58 percent of white Catholics, and 55 percent of white mainline Protestants favor allowing LGBT couples to legally wed.
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.
There are currently 11 states, along with Washington, D.C., that permit, or will soon permit, same-sex marriages: Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.