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(SAINT PAUL) — State Representative Karen Clark’s floor speech on the motion to re-refer the marriage amendment to the Judiciary Committee:
“This is a very personal issue for me. So I will begin with that. It’s also a very important community and civil rights issue, so I will talk more about later.
“I have talked with many of you over the years, dear colleagues. Some of you know me fairly well and others only recently. Those who do know me know that I am in a long-term committed lesbian relationship with my partner, Jacquelyn and know that I have a loving family, extended family and community who honors our relationship; celebrates it. Jackie and I have been committed partners for more than 22 years, probably longer than many of you have been heterosexually married. We are faithful partners who take care of each other in all the ways faithful spouses do. We’ve been through thick and thin together.
“Right now we are both going through something that many people of our generation go through – caring for our aging parents who are experiencing major health challenges related to age. Last year we brought Jackie’s parents up from Missouri to be near us. Her dad is struggling with Parkinson’s disease and Jackie is an only child. So they are here living in an elders community that can provide progressive health care options. My dad has been is in the Veteran’s hospital in Sioux Falls, S. Dakota for the last 3 months. He was living independently with one of my brothers in his own home in the village of Kenneth, Minnesota until he fell down his basement steps 3 months ago. Both are Dads are WW 2 veterans who suffered disabilities due to the war. Jackie’s Dad was awarded two purple hearts—something we didn’t know about until we moved him here. He didn’t talk about the war much.
“Both us of treat and care for each other’s parents as you and your partner or spouse may care for your in-laws, if you have one. One difference might be that we joke that these dear ones are our ‘out-laws’ rather than our in-laws – some of you may remember that is exactly how I introduced Jackie parents when they sat on that bench here during a visit to the House years ago. Since then, my own mother has passed, and due to ill health, none of our remaining three parents can be with us in person today.
“But I do have a photo that I’d like to pass around. It’s a photo taken of Jackie and me with my parents and others in 1993 at the Gay Pride parade in Minneapolis – about a month after we passed the amendment to the MN Human Rights Act. You may recall that law passed and added those dangerous words ‘sexual orientation’ to the Minnesota Human Rights Act in order to provide protections against discrimination in employment, housing, access to public services, access to education and access to credit. It has been in place ever since—one of the strongest, most comprehensive laws in the nation. The message on the sign my parents are marching with in that 1993 photo is clear. ‘Our Gay children should have the same rights as our heterosexual children.’ They were marching with an organization called Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). That was a very emotional day for all of us. This was my parent’s first gay pride event and thousands cheered them and hundreds of other parents and family members who marched to celebrate the new law. It had taken 20 years to pass that legislation. They carried that strong equal rights message that day and my mother later posted it in the family’s photo album at the Kenneth Town Hall when the town celebrated its 100th anniversary in Rock County in 2000.
“My mother Millie was a proud and fiercely loving parent who wanted everyone to know her support for her daughter who she described as “differently blessed" in her letter to editor of the Rock County Star Herald during the time the bill was being considered in 1993. And she suffered some abuse from that public disclosure, from her ‘coming out’ as the mother of a lesbian, but she was relentless and really believed that I should have the same civil rights for my partnership as my brothers and sister do.
“I have to belief that message about basic family rights and protections is what at most parents do want for their gay/lesbian bisexual/transgender children and that I believe you would want for all your children too. In fact, some of you have shared with me that you do have family members, friends, kids, neighbors, constituents who are GLBT persons and that you would like for them to have the same basic family rights, protections and benefits too. Gay marriage, civil unions these are ways that can happen, and some states around us do offer those benefits and, as many of you know, the state directly to our south, Iowa, offers marriage itself to committed GLBT couples. These benefits or rights actually come down to 515 different rights, benefits or obligations that committed, loving partnerships like mine are denied here in Minnesota. One example:
“Being able to take care of each other if and when one of us is sick or dying. Having the right to care for, take charge of my partner’s body should she die. Now I will tell you that my partner and I did all we could to ensure those basic and tender partner rights when I was ill with cancer more than ten years ago. I needed surgery and we paid a lawyer to draw up the legal papers, but I am painfully aware that even those legal documents may not have been enough, if we’d needed them, just like it wasn’t enough for Tim Reardon and his partner Eric in the story book I have had handed out. Some of you may remember that we tried to pass a law that would have at least guaranteed those final rights to care for the funeral and disposition of our partner’s body after one of us dies during last year’s legislative session. It was called the ‘final wishes’ bill. Thank you Erin Murphy for chief authoring it and for many of you who voted for it. It passed. Unfortunately our former Governor Pawlenty vetoed that bill. So I still do not have that right protected and this proposed constitutional amendment might help ensure I won’t ever be able to have that basic and decent right.
“Another important example:
“The benefit and responsibility that Rep. Steve Simon proposed last year that was also part of that final wishes bill too. It would have included the rights to redress by a surviving domestic partner in case of a wrongful death–a right previously only available to heterosexual married partners. Again it was in the bill that passed but was vetoed by the former Governor Pawlenty.
“Pensions and social security benefits. I can tell you that each time I open my retirement account update from the state of MN, I feel upset and angry because even though I have been a public servant, a public employee, for more than 30 years, pay my social security and FICA taxes, I am deprived of the very same economic survival benefits for my partner that those of you who’ve been here only for a few months automatically would receive for your married spouse. Is that right? Is that fair? Why would you want to deprive me of this economic right? I’ve contributed every month to the pool of funding that any married partner of my colleagues here will be entitled to. I’ve paid my taxes. Is it economics? Is it discrimination? Is it both? Why would any of you want to deprive me and my partner of these rights? Why would you? At least one of my friends over there has told me he acknowledges that he knows I love and care for my partner as dearly as he loves his wife. It’s a tender truth.
“Now, do I have to go through and tell you about the other 514 benefits and rights denied to lesbian/gay/bisexual/transsexual committed couples and try to gain your support for each of those laws that would provide equal protection to OUR families—protection from discrimination? I’m not going to do that now.
“Which one of you, my colleagues, do not believe I should have my basic family rights with my partner? Please tell me. That’s what this about. I’ve paid my dues, my required share. You have to be able to face me and face your own constituents who have been calling you and tell us that’s what you believe and support.
“So we are offering you a choice to do something different right now. You can vote with me to re-refer this amendment back to the Judiciary Committee to have more serious deliberation and discussion. Let me tell you why personally I want to ask for more time, more deliberation.
“Until this last election, I thought my partner and I might be able to be one of the early couples to enjoy the rights of marriage by a law getting passed and signed in Minnesota. But that possibility has changed, at least for now. And since my dad has become so ill, I have, for the first time, thought of taking a trip to Iowa, where Gay marriage is legal, so that he could still be part of the celebration for me and my partner. Maybe we will do it on his 95th birthday in June. So I called and found out what it would take. $35 to go get a marriage license in Rock rapids, Iowa. Wait three days. Then find a magistrate to do the marriage.
“But I beg you colleagues; please don’t make me go off to Iowa. I was raised in Minnesota. I’m a child of Minnesota. I wanted to have it happen here in Minnesota and I wanted our parents to be there as they clearly would want to be. I don’t expect that I will have that opportunity now with my own Dad anymore. And it makes me very sad. But I still hold out the possibility that my other veteran dad with two purple hearts will be able to celebrate his daughter’s wedding. So in the meantime, please help me figure out how to stop this disparaging, hurtful, and discriminating amendment by referring it back to the committee for more deliberation. Many of you have confided your personal struggles with this issue to me. I know it is hurtful to many of you too.
“The Minnesota I know is a place of inclusion, tolerance and love and I truly believe the people of this great state do not want us to enshrine discrimination in our constitution. Neither do most of you. Let’s take some more time to talk together. We know this amendment won’t help one single family in Minnesota, and this amendment could be absolutely heartbreaking to thousands of people and families across our state.
“I need your help, your courage, and your leadership to re-refer this bill back to the committee. Please vote with your conscience and with your heart. Thanks.”
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