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Project 515

By Lavender July 3, 2008

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It wasn’t too long ago that most Greater Minnesota legislators easily dismissed advocates on behalf of same-sex couples, because they sincerely believed no same-sex couples existed in their Greater Minnesota districts. As legislators represent their districts, and as no same-sex couples live in their district, why bother supporting equality? Right?

But same-sex couples exist in every county in Minnesota, according to a June 2008 Williams Institute Census Snapshot of Minnesota. It shows that in 2005, 16,801 same-sex couples lived, worked, and raised their families in Minnesota. Although the Twin Cities has a higher density of same-sex couples, we are present across the state.

That’s why Project 515 is reaching out to Greater Minnesota. We are taking to everyone our message of treating all Minnesota couples with equality, whether you live in St. Paul, Warroad, Winona, or Alexandria. Same-sex couples in long-term, committed relationships are everywhere. It’s not just a big-city thing.

Project 515 is focused on increasing awareness of and inspiring change to the 515 Minnesota state statutes that discriminate against same-sex couples and families in long-term, committed relationships.

Our goal of nothing short of equality has the support of nearly eight of ten Minnesotans, who think government should not treat people differently because of their sexual orientation (according to a poll conducted by Decision Resources, Ltd. of Minneapolis, a leading public affairs polling firm). The same survey found that almost 70 percent of Minnesotans agreed with the following: “Gays and lesbians should have the same rights as everyone else.”

Recently, several representatives of Project 515 visited Rochester with this message. Meetings with area leaders of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce and the Rochester Human Rights Commission, among others, proved fruitful. Community leaders not only are aware of our work, but also understand fairness is a value that benefits all Minnesotans, including those in Rochester.

Project 515’s outreach to Rochester is important in light of a 2007 court ruling that an area athletic club did not discriminate against a lesbian couple by prohibiting them from joining at the family discount rate. Instead, Amy and Sarah Monson, along with their child, were allowed only individual memberships at the club.

The plaintiffs claimed the policy violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Unfortunately, the judge agreed with the defendants—that the policy didn’t discriminate against sexual orientation, but placed the same restrictions on everyone: In order to join as a family, a marriage must be recognized by the State of Minnesota.

It’s stories like these that Project 515 is highlighting to our community, legislators, and all Minnesotans. They demonstrate why fairness and equality in our laws are important for everyone.

“We are pleased to have had the opportunity to make area leaders aware of the 515 state laws that currently discriminate against committed same-sex couples, and the very real impact those laws have on Olmsted County families,” Laura Smidzik, Executive Director of Project 515, said about the Rochester visit. “Rochester area leaders and Minnesotans across the state value fairness. But our laws fall short for many of our family members, friends, coworkers, and members of our faith communities.”

“Every day, Greater Minnesota families are caring for and protecting each other despite the discrimination they face from our current laws,” Luz Maria Davis of Project 515 added. “Together, we can strengthen families in our communities by working to ensure they are treated fairly and equally by Minnesota laws.”

Help Project 515 work for equality by telling us your story, or by donating your time or money. Go to www.project515.org.

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