Election 2012: Keeping the faith in Minnesota

By the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Task Force Faith Work Director and Member of the steering committee for Minnesotans United for All Families

This past Sunday, my partner, Maggie, our 5-year-old daughter, Shannon, and I were driving through a neighborhood in which several of the houses had “Vote Yes” signs. Because we’ve spent time explaining to her that we want folks to vote no against the proposed amendment that would effectively ban us from getting married — and enshrine that ban in the Minnesota state constitution — Shannon was concerned that there were so many “yes” signs. And then she was quiet for a while.

When we arrived at our destination and were getting out of the car, Shannon broke her silence and said, “Mama, if we lose, will you and Mommy have to get divorced?” Maggie and I both froze and looked at each other… what to say?

The experience reminded me of a powerful story told by the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, a mentor and spiritual teacher of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s. Dr. Thurman writes in his memoir, With Head and Heart:

On one of our visits to Daytona Beach, I was eager to show my daughters some of my old haunts. We sauntered down the long street from the church to the riverfront. This had been the path of the procession to the baptismal ceremony in the Halifax River, which I had often described to them. We stopped here and there as I noted the changes that had taken place since that far-off time. At length, we passed the playground of the white public schools. As soon as Olive and Anne saw the swings, they jumped for joy.  “Look, Daddy, let’s go over and swing!” This was the inescapable moment of truth that every black parent in America must face soon or late. What do you say to your child at the critical moment of primary encounter?

“You can’t swing on those swings.”


“When we get home and have some cold lemonade I will tell you.” When we were home again, and had had our lemonade, Anne pressed for the answer. “We are home now, Daddy. Tell us.”

I said, “It is against the law for us to use those swings, even though it is a public school. At present, only white children can play there. But it takes the state legislature, the courts, the sheriffs and the policemen, the white churches, the mayors, the banks and businesses, and the majority of the white people in the state of Florida — it takes all these to keep two little black girls from swinging in those swings. That is how important you are! Never forget, the estimate of your own importance and self-worth can be judged by how many weapons and how much power people are willing to use to control you and keep you in the place they have assigned to you. You are two very important little girls. Your presence can threaten the entire state of Florida.”

Now I want to be clear that the experiences of justice and injustice are different. The struggle for LGBT justice is not the same as that for civil rights. Racism and homo-, bi- and trans-phobia live and act in different ways. I don’t want to pretend to co-opt Dr. Thurman’s experience. But his wisdom of how we are called to live in relationship with laws and systems that seek to make us teach our children that we and they are less than our neighbors is a powerful lesson. “No, Shannon, Mommy and I are married before God and our community. And one day, we’ll be married in the eyes of the State of Minnesota. But we need to keep fighting to make sure everyone knows that love is love.”

Now, I want to be clear, I am still very hopeful about the work against the amendment here in Minnesota, particularly that of communities of faith. I believe we are going to win. There are over 2,500 people of faith (Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, pagan, Wiccan) trained to have one-to-one conversations with people they know — about love and commitment, about family, about the LGBT people they know and love, about not limiting the freedom to marry. There have been thousands of religious folks who’ve gathered for worship and prayer to defeat this amendment. Every day, there are phone-banks of people of faith calling other people of faith and clergy who are voting no calling other clergy to urge them to speak out against the amendment. Hundreds of congregations have signed on against the amendment.

And, perhaps most importantly, the spirit of this campaign is about neighbor recognizing the humanity of neighbor. All of those trained as conversationalists against the amendment have been trained to listen first… to see their neighbor (even if they have a vote yes sign) as a beloved child of God. And out of that recognition, to claim their own belovedness and tell their story of why they’re voting no.

It is why I am so proud to be a Minnesotan and a person of faith in this campaign. We are prayerfully voting no. We’re respectfully listening to neighbor and we’re faithfully organizing against any attempt to limit the freedom to marry or to tell any child that her parents’ love is wrong.

Read more about our work in Minnesota here, here, here and here.