Ann Kaner-Roth was appointed executive director at Project 515 in 2010. Prior to 2010, she served as executive director of Child Care WORKS; associate director of the Jewish Community Foundation; and Field Representative for the California State Assembly. She holds an MSW focused in public policy from Boston University and a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Lavender Magazine: Tell me about Project 515.
Ann Kaner-Roth: Project 515 is a Minnesota-based nonprofit working to ensure that same-sex couples and their families have equal rights and considerations under Minnesota law. There are at least 515 Minnesota state laws that discriminate against same-sex couples and their families. We work toward our mission by educating Minnesotans about that discrimination, sharing stories of impacted families, and pursuing pro-equality legislation.
LM: What legislation have you pursued?
AKR: In 2009 we passed the Protecting One’s Home bill, which provided equity to unmarried co-homeowners. That bill was signed into law, but our Final Wishes and Wrongful Death bills were vetoed by Governor Pawlenty in 2010. We’ve worked for the passage of other bills focusing on policy issues that improve laws for same-sex couples, including probate, judiciary, health care, end-of-life issues and more.
LM: What was your legislative focus in 2011 and what will you work on in 2012?
AKR: In 2011, we poured all of our legislative resources into working to defeat efforts to place a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot, directing our four registered lobbyists (including me) to do whatever possible to avoid a ballot measure. Despite a passionate debate from both sides of the aisle, and a strong collaboration between many organizations to fight this off, the Minnesota Legislature voted to place the amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples on the 2012 ballot.
The 2012 legislative session is expected to be brief, and all eyes are on the November 6, 2012 election. Our efforts this year are focused on defeating the ballot measure.
LM: What is your position on the constitutional amendment?
AKR: Project 515, along with OutFront Minnesota, is one of two founding organizations of MN United for All Families. We publicly and strongly oppose the amendment. There are more than 10,000 Minnesota families headed by committed same-sex partners who are raising children, making health decisions about family members, buying homes together and doing all the things that make for safe, happy and productive families. The constitutional amendment would place these families at risk by permanently placing discrimination in our state constitution.
LM: Why is this discussion important for Minnesota?
AKR: Minnesotans value fairness. Project 515’s statewide polls have shown that nearly 8 out of 10 Minnesotans believe gays and lesbians should be treated no differently under the law.
However, there is a significant gap between the fairness Minnesotans value and Minnesota’s laws. At a time when Minnesota is concerned about education, the economy, health care and other important quality of life issues, it’s unfortunate that Minnesotans will spend the next year debating a constitutional amendment that hurts many families without helping even one family.
LM: Can’t same-sex or unmarried couples just hire an attorney and draw up legal documents to secure the rights and responsibilities that married couples have?
AKR: Even if couples are able to afford the significant expense of obtaining legal counsel, most of the rights, benefits and responsibilities automatically provided to married couples cannot be replicated by signing legal documents or contracts.
LM: Families headed by same-sex couples already exist in Minnesota. How many are there and would the amendment deny legal rights to those families?
AKR: According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are more than 10,000 gay and lesbian couples living in Minnesota who cannot receive the same recognition or protections for their families as other couples. Almost 20% of those families are raising children. If passed, the constitutional amendment keeps those families at risk by permanently placing discrimination in our state constitution and places significant roadblocks in the path toward equal treatment for same-sex couples and their families.
LM: Why is access to marriage more important than access to a civil union with the same rights?
AKR: Project 515 is focused on achieving equality under the law for same-sex couples in whatever way best provides the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities that are bestowed to straight couples by marriage. Without the freedom to legally marry, same-sex couples do not receive the same recognition and protections for their families as other couples.