I walked around Cossetta’s pensively. I was there to meet with Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, to talk about the Marriage Amendment. I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I’d heard from a contact that she had voted for the Marriage Amendment, but that she regretted it. What I didn’t know is if she “regretted” her vote because the amendment lost, or because she felt it wasn’t the right thing to do. I wondered what she’d think of my push for same-sex relationship recognition.
It turned out Rep. Kieffer is a delightful and friendly woman, slight in build and very engaging. We exchanged greetings and found seats to have a conversation.
“I didn’t get into politics for the social issues,” she began our chat. “I got into politics because of fiscal issues and because we just spend too much. I didn’t want to touch these issues at all.”
I asked her about her vote in favor of the Marriage Amendment, and she was startlingly frank.
“The amendment itself was simply to protect the definition of a long-standing traditional institution, ‘marriage’.” Kieffer said. “Unfortunately, the message quickly turned into something negative and that is what my concern was,” she said, reflecting the internal conflict of many people. On the one hand, sincere people have a very strong personal belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and on the other hand they recognize that it is not right to use government power to discriminate against people simply because you disagree with their lifestyles.
Clenching and unclenching her fists, Rep. Kieffer talked about the emotions running through the capitol the night of the vote.
“It was so loud outside. There were people crying and shouting. It was the most emotional night, you won’t believe. I was hugging a young man who was crying when they told me it was time to vote.”
After the vote, she put on a brave face. To constituents who criticized her position she said, “I told them to vote ‘no’ and then we’d know. Now we know.”
Kieffer remembered knocking on doors when she first ran for office. “I met several women, lesbians, who told me they were fiscally conservative but they didn’t feel represented. I thought about how they feel about the issue.” There was a bit of a catch in her throat. This subject clearly bothered her.
I asked Kieffer how she felt about same-sex couples being recognized by the state.
“Did you see the movie Lincoln?” she asked. “There is a scene where he’s explaining how like ‘things’ should be treated alike. I can’t help but think about that scene when this comes up. Back then it was race. Now its gender-based, but it is still about treating people equally.” She bumped the sides of her left hand against the table on one side, then on the other, to emphasize that “like” compared with “like” are therefore equal.
Equal treatment matters to Kieffer as much, if not more so, than her personal beliefs about the proper definition of “marriage.”
“I do think we should find a way to give all consenting adult couples the same benefits/rights without changing the definition of marriage currently in statute. Gays and lesbian couples are tax-paying citizens in our state being discriminated against under some laws.”
“I am a conservative,” she added. “I believe individuals have the sovereign right to make decisions about their personal life and property. The state should make that easy–not more difficult–for all Minnesotans whether I or anyone else agrees with their choices.”
Perhaps we had more in common than I had thought. It was something she knew needed fixing and being made right. I brought up the idea of civil unions for Minnesotans. She had obviously discussed it previously. I told her five states currently have civil unions and those laws could be exemplars. She nodded but added: “No one should assume that a paper document guarantees the government will take care of your healthcare or estate planning. My husband and I still had to get living wills, power of attorneys, a trust set up for our daughter who is a vulnerable adult. There are situations that law just doesn’t cover.”
I agree with her. There is a romanticization of the idea of marriage in the GLBT community. The community tends to talk in terms of “rights” and “benefits,” but is less vocal when it comes to “obligations” and “responsibilities” assumed by marriage.
Rep. Kieffer seemed sincerely conflicted about same-sex marriage and her own feelings of equal treatment for people in equal situations. I believe we have a Republican legislator actively listening to us and who is willing to continue the conversation. I don’t think she’s the only one. That matters.
Reflecting on my interview with Rep. Kieffer, I remembered something from a communications class I had in college years ago. The professor talked about what constituted a “conversation.” There are the external parts like the words exchanged back and forth but there is an even more important part. There is the listening and interpreting part and the subsequent response to the other person. It is within that exchange real meaning is conveyed.
I didn’t know if Rep. Kieffer and I shared any beliefs when we began talking; however, by the time the conversation ended, both of us had a greater understanding of the other’s positions. We weren’t as far apart as I had anticipated. Our conversation had changed us both as any good exchange of ideas should. I think we aren’t the only ones affected by these conversations.
As I found from my conversation with Rep. Kieffer, we need to engage in outreach with people we don’t think will support us. We need to stick OUR necks out. Then, when we find people on the right who listen to us, we need to listen to them. We all need to appreciate their point of view along with our own.
Right before we parted, I asked Rep. Kieffer about whether she’d support a same-sex marriage bill. She smiled. “You really have to see Lincoln. There is this guy who has the [anti-slavery] bill and doesn’t want to compromise. In the end, to get passage he does give a little. He didn’t get all he wanted but he got almost all of it.”
I think I will have to go see Lincoln.
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