Since I was able to speak with Sen. John Marty and get his take on same-sex marriage in Minnesota, I wanted to get a DFL house member’s impression on the issue. Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, was gracious enough to speak with me on the subject. I know Winkler from Twitter and he had expressed support for the GLBT community on this issue. He was first elected in 2006 and represents parts of St. Louis Park, Golden Valley, Medicine Lake, and Plymouth. Being a DFLer in the suburbs gives him an interesting perspective on the issue.
Stevens: What is your stance on making same-sex marriage legal in Minnesota?
Winkler: I think we should enact marriage equality and I think we should do it in 2013.
What are its chances for passage in the Minnesota House this year? When?
I think you have a pretty high likelihood of passage this year. I don’t think we will pass it before we deal with the financial and budgetary issues which are our first constitutional obligation. But I think that after we have taken care of our constitutional responsibilities we will move onto this issue.
Patrick Condon and Brian Bakst of the Associated Press wrote an article, following the 2012 election, about the politics of passing same-sex marriage. They found 16 House DFLers were elected in districts where the Marriage Amendment had a majority of support. Can the DFL get these representatives to vote for same-sex marriage?
I think a lot of people who represent those districts have a strong personal conviction that marriage equality is the right thing to do. And I think for some of them there may be a political downside in supporting it but I don’t think that number is nearly as high as sixteen. I’m not sure that same-sex marriage is really a powerful voting issue for those who oppose it any more. And just by way of example, there were Democrats who voted against the Marriage Amendment in the legislature who went back to their districts, got reelected, and their districts strongly supported the amendment. I think that issue isn’t held against them by enough swing voters to make a difference. Second of all, I don’t think the Republican Party is intending to use the Marriage Amendment issue as a political weapon any more. No organization out there is using it to attack people who vote for same-sex marriage. I think its political danger is much less.
So you think the issue has flipped politically?
I think it has flipped in its ability to galvanize voters to become the single issue that determines your vote for someone one way or another. That’s really just dropped off dramatically. A number of years ago driving through St. Cloud, I can’t remember who the representative or senator was, there was a billboard with two men in tuxedoes obviously getting married and the tag line was “Want gay marriage? Vote for so-and-so.” It was clearly used as a way to attack [a candidate] they considered not sufficiently opposed to same-sex marriage. You didn’t see any of that this year. [Banning same-sex marriage] was on the ballot. It was probably the most significant political issue this year in Minnesota. [Opponents to same-sex marriage] simply didn’t use it in campaigns at all.
Do you think there could be GOP support for the law?
I hope so. There should be. I know there are a number of Republicans who believe we should pass marriage equality. I hope they reach the same conclusion that Democrats do. If you believe you should vote for it, do so. It is not going to hurt you. You are not going to use this issue against the Democrats any more. I hope there are some Republicans who vote for it. I know there were a few who voted against the marriage amendment two years ago. There were some who opposed the marriage amendment strongly but voted for it and they were deeply bothered by it. I just don’t see this as a partisan issue.
If the House is unable to get the votes for same-sex marriage, would you support repealing the state DOMA law at least as a first step?
The answer would be yes. I think the supporters of same-sex marriage would have the hardest time with that as a first step. I mean it’s a civil rights issue. It’s really hard if you have a strong conviction like I do that this is a basic question of human fairness and decency. It’s hard to say a half step is adequate. I would much rather vote for marriage equality. If it did fall apart, which I wouldn’t expect, then we should make progress wherever we can. It really has to be shown that it won’t work first. I think we need to focus on passing the full civil rights bill.
If civil union legislation, which would essentially give the same benefits and responsibilities, could pass this year, would you consider supporting it if same-sex marriage failed?
That would certainly be better than nothing. You are talking about the difference of a word. If you can’t deliver full equality it would be better to supply people with the same benefits and rights and substance as everyone else even if you can’t call it the same thing. I think that would be a fallback if the votes weren’t there. I think we can get the votes for marriage equality. I have a lot of confidence that we can do that.
We’ve been getting a lot of negative signals from Majority Leader Tom Bakk and from Speaker Thissen…and even Governor Dayton made a comment that was not very encouraging. Why do you suppose they are so non-committal?
First of all, right after the election, before the legislature is organized, the leaders don’t necessarily know where their caucuses stand on issues. They can get in trouble if they take too clear of a position on something, getting too far ahead of their colleagues. There is certain hesitancy in the beginning to make clear statements on taxes and any number of issues. Second of all, I think there is a hesitancy to make it appear that same-sex marriage is a top priority this session. That it would come before balancing the budget and investing in education. Most Minnesotans expect us to do that first. [The DFL leaders] don’t want to give the impression that they want to skip straight to dessert without eating our vegetables first. That’s not to say we’re not doing this. It’s more ‘lets cool this for now.’
We don’t want Minnesotans to think we are failing to govern and balance the budget. To me, if you can’t pass a balanced budget and shutdown government and go after a bunch of social issues, you are going to have a problem with Minnesota voters. I think they are trying to avoid the perception we not doing our core basic work before we move onto other things.
Winkler is a standup guy who has always shown integrity so I don’t doubt his convictions. He has worked in the House since 2006 so knows many of the legislators well. He laid out the case quite convincingly. However, whether same-sex marriage is the winning strategy for same-sex relationship recognition isn’t as clear. I’ll explain.
Several questions arise from his answers, especially given the reticence the DFL leadership has shown. His belief that rural DFLers will vote in opposition their constituencies on same-sex marriage may be wishful thinking. Following this interview, I found an example of a rural DFLer who is not too keen on this issue. Don Davis said on January 8, 2013, in the Duluth News Tribune article “Money tops Minnesota legislative concerns”:
“Money will dominate conversation as Minnesota legislators begin their 2013 session at noon today.
It is such a key issue that when caught rushing to a midday Monday appointment, Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, could not think of an important nonbudget issue. Marquart said he has told fellow state representatives that the budget is so important that they should not consider issues such as gay marriage and gun control this year.”
The above account is from January 8, 2013, not right after the election. In this article, Speaker Paul Thissen did say he believes they can work on same-sex marriage this year but Marquart, who just missed getting the No. 2 spot in the DFL caucus, was openly hostile to the issue.
“Marquart said he does not want guns, same-sex marriage and other social issues to get in the way of budget work. Besides, he said, rural lawmakers may not support some of those causes.
‘No doubt those are difficult issues in rural Minnesota,’ he said, ‘and ones we should not focus on.’”
The issue faces serious challenges if some rural DFLers are against even discussing same-sex marriage.
Winkler’s answers also raise another substantial question. If same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue, why is it less important than the budget? I understand budgetary concerns are very important but I would think our civil rights would be equally as important. This leads into my next concern.
With rural DFL legislators skittish about same-sex marriage, I cannot understand why we don’t consider a compromise position like civil unions. Other states have taken this path and it has worked well. While our governor is wary of pushing boulders up mountains, Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper had this to say at his state of the state address as published January 10, 2013, by The Associated Press in The Denver Post:
“As mentioned earlier, there are quite a few mountains we ought to climb together before this session ends in May. Some of us tried very hard, but it didn’t get done last year. This year, let’s do it. Let’s pass civil unions!”
Again, I’m not arguing against same-sex marriage but I am definitely against doing nothing. If we limit ourselves to an all-or-nothing proposition, I’m afraid we will get absolutely nothing. That isn’t an option for me. As far as I’m concerned we need to press for recognition of our relationships today and not in ten years or whatever. Let’s get the discussion opened up. But above all, let’s not skip dessert.
Contact Your Politicians
Governor Mark Dayton
Phone: (651) 201-3400
Email: http://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/form/ (Web Contact Form)
Senator Tom Bakk
Phone: (651) 296-8881
Representative Paul Thissen
Phone: (651) 296-5375
Representative Erin Murphy
Phone: (651) 296-5496
“The DFL’s Big Gay Farce” from Issue 457, November 29, 2012
“Three of Four Top Elected Minnesota Politicians Comment on the Marriage Debate” from Issue 458, December 13, 2012
“‘Earnest Money:’ Repeal DOMA Now” from Issue 458, December 13, 2012
“Why We Can’t Wait” an Interview with Sen. John Marty from Issue 460, January 10, 2013
“Waiting for Superman” from Issue 460, January 10, 2013
“Don’t Skip Dessert” an Interview with Rep. Ryan Winkler from Issue 461, January 24, 2013
“What’s In A Name?” A Case for Civil Unions from Issue 461, January 24, 2013