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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Protecting the Rights of All

Over the past ten years, I fell in love with someone very special to me.  We bought a house together.  We share bank accounts.  We are each other’s beneficiaries on our various accounts and insurance policies.  We both love Halloween and Christmas.  We visit one another’s families often.  Our nieces and nephews love both of us.  We are even looking to bring a child into our home soon.  We are just like many other couples in Minnesota, except we’re both men and we can’t marry.

As chair of the Diversity Committee, I am frequently asked “why is diversity important in our legal profession?”  Indeed, don’t we have lady justice who is blind?  But, if she is so blind, then why does Minnesota face a vote this November to wholly exclude same-sex couples from access to marriage?  As a lawyer, a gay person, and a diversity leader, I cannot comprehend how our state constitution could become a tool to withhold rights from any Minnesota citizen.  But this November, it may very well happen.

What’s unique about the MSBA is its courage and leadership on issues like what we face in November.  Diversity for our legal profession is more than just numbers.  It is appreciating and understanding the power of people’s differences, regardless of whether we’re talking about the composition of Minnesota lawyers, Minnesota’s judiciary, those who access and leverage our justice system, or the laws that guide our work.  The MSBA understands this importance and shows it through action.

On the specific issue of same-sex marriage, the MSBA publicly opposed any attempt to amend our state constitution to preclude same-sex marriage in 2004.  The Association renewed that position in 2010.  Most recently, the Association came out publicly in opposition to the marriage amendment ballot initiative this fall.

But the MSBA’s support of the LGBT community isn’t limited to same-sex marriage.  In 2005, the MSBA updated its 1999 Sexual and Gender Equity report, expanding the report’s scope to include other minority communities, including the LGBT community.  The report was updated this past year.

The MSBA also issued a report from the Unmarried Couples Task Force in 2009, outlining how Minnesota statutes discriminate against unmarried couples, especially the LGBT community.  As the report finds, “[t]hough in most other respects indistinguishable from heterosexual couples who affirm their commitment though marriage, same-sex couples are systemically denied the legal protections and obligations marriage would provide, leaving these couples and their families vulnerable to concerns and disparities not faced by married couples,” or otherwise accessible to unmarried, different-sex couples.

Also in 2009, the MSBA adopted a resolution not to change Minnesota’s Human Rights Act to remove protections to LGBT persons.  Further, the MSBA has been involved in updating judicial and MSBA policies to be inclusive for all communities.

You will be asked this November to decide if our state constitution should provide the definition of marriage, and if that definition should be limited to unions between one man and one woman.  But as you vote this November, and you get to the back of the ballot, remember what former Vice President Walter F. Mondale and former Minnesota Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz said in a joint letter about this amendment initiative: in its entire history, Minnesota has never preempted the ordinary process of representative government by enshrining one view of family law into its constitution. There is no compelling need to do so now. Regardless of your own opinions on the underlying issue, we should be united in our belief that the proposed constitutional amendment erodes the aspirational ideal that a constitution is foundational to our democracy and it exists to protect the rights of all.

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