by Dennis Dalman
When Kathy Horner and Wanda Carlson were pronounced “wife and wife,” the congregation burst into applause as the two women kissed each other at the altar before walking down the aisle to more smiles and even louder applause.
The historic same-sex wedding ceremony took place Sunday at the Spiritual Unity Center in Sartell. About 50 people – family, friends, well-wishers – attended the ceremony, which featured violin music, singing and poetry readings. The Rev. Barbara Winter Martin of Spiritual Unity Center officiated at the wedding.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota Aug. 1 after the state legislature approved it several months ago. Less than a year ago, voters statewide rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and woman only. There are now 13 states in the nation that allow for legal same-sex marriages. So far, there has been a handful of same-sex marriage licence applications issued in the local tri-county area. In metro areas, that number is much higher.
In the church lobby, people lined up to congratulate the couple. There were many hugs and more than a few misty eyes. Several people mentioned they had just witnessed a historic occasion.
“We are very excited, very happy,” said Wanda after the ceremony. “We feel very blessed.”
Kathy is a compliance specialist for Array Services in Sartell; and Wanda is a student studying for a degree in chemical-education counseling at St. Cloud State University. The two met two years ago. One year ago, they were united in a spritual-unity ceremony at the Spiritual Unity Center, and at that time nobody had any firm idea that full-fledged marriage would become legal for same-sex couples in Minnesota. As the same-sex marriage movement grew, Kathy and Wanda became fairly optimistic it had a chance of legislative approval. They watched the vote tally come in on the day it was approved and then they cheered with wild jubilation.
“We’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time,” Winter Martin said of the marriage. “I’m so thrilled.”
It was Winter Martin who also united the two women in the spiritual-unity ceremony one year ago.
Kathy and Wanda, who live in St. Cloud, are both members of the Spiritual Unity Center. The congregation worked hard to make their marriage not only possible but free of charge.
A happy day
The day Gov. Mark Dayton put his signature on the same-sex marriage bill is a day Kathy and Wanda Horner Carlson said they will never forget.
Dayton signed the bill May 14 after it was passed by the Democratically controlled House on a vote of 75-59 and by the Senate, also Democratically controlled, 37-30. Wanda and Kathy followed every step of the legislative process with eager anticipation.
The two women, because of their legal marriage status, will benefit from the estimated 1,000 or so state and federal benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples, including inheritance rights, hospital-visitation rights and income-tax breaks. But beyond those rights, the two newlyweds said what makes them happiest is they can live as a fully married couple on equal, non-discriminatory footing with other married couples.
Minnesota is the second state in the Midwest, after Iowa, to legalize same-sex marriage. The progress toward gay and lesbian full-fledged marriages in the United States was so rapid in recent years, it took just about everybody by surprise. Since 2004 and through 2009, there were four bills introduced in the state legislature that would have not only banned same-sex marriage but would have forbidden civil unions for same-sex couples. Marriage for same-sex couples was not legal in Minnesota. A referendum in 2012 to define marriage as between a man and woman only, through a constitutional amendment, failed when 52.6 percent of Minnesotans voted against it.
Although opposition to same-sex unions in Minnesota remains as high as 47 percent, repeated polls in just the past 10 years have inched ever closer to majority approval, with some polls registering approval by half or slightly more than half of those polled. Even when approval ratings were in the 40s in most polls, the disapproval ratings were consistently lower. Those responding as “not sure” to poll questions ranged from 2 to 10 percent of poll respondents.
A victory for same-sex marriage advocates happened recently when the U.S. Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed during the Clinton Administration. Last year, Clinton, who had favored the bill, said he had had a change of heart and has come to believe same-sex marriage should be legal. Another earlier boost for same-sex marriage advocates occurred a couple of years ago when the military decided to drop its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule for troops, making it possible for openly gay and lesbian troops to serve their country.
Despite advances and victories, however, same-sex marriage is not universally possible in the United States. Only 13 states have legalized it. In the other states, there is a patchwork quilt of laws either banning it or, in some cases, allowing same-sex couples civil unions with limited marriage rights.
Estimates range widely as to how many exclusively gay and lesbian people there are in the United States, from as low as 2 percent to as high as 5 percent.