Minnesota House passes Marriage Equality bill, the Jewish perspective

The mood at the Minnesota State Capitol today was one of pure joy when the House of Representatives passed the marriage equality bill 75-59 on Thursday. The bill will now go to the DFL controlled Senate for a vote on Monday. Should it pass the Senate it will go to Governor Mark Dayton (DFL), who has said he will sign the bill should it reach his desk.

As Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-Hopkins/St. Louis Park), co-author of the House bill, said to supporters after the vote on Thursday, “It’s not time to uncork the champagne yet, but it’s chilling!”

Speaking personally, I was lucky enough to be in the Capitol yesterday as the votes were being cast, and there are no words for the moment that bill passed. It felt like the whole room lifted ten feet off the ground. All around me, people were crying, laughing, cheering, hugging, and one couple (that I saw) even had their own “Times Square” moment with an aggressive bit of kissing on the ground floor. Some people couldn’t move; some were wandering around like lunatics, looking for others to share in their joy. But everybody was happy. More than happy, really; there were no words.

During the vote, supporters filled the rotunda with songs about peace and love. “This little light of mine” was changed to “This little love of mine.” Others were singing, “All we are saying, is vote Yes today.” After the vote a grand chorus broke out into “Going to the chapel…” And as each legislator who voted yes exited the chamber, they were showered with thanks from the crowd.

Some legislators then spoke to the assembly. One of them was Rep. Simon, a Jew from St. Louis Park. Along with being a full-time attorney, Rep. Simon is a member of the Minnesota House, serves on board of the JCRC, and as co-author of this bill was instrumental in seeing it passed.

“I think about all this as a new dad,” he said in an interview with TC Jewfolk. “In 18 or so years when our daughters are high school graduates, by that time this vote will be no big deal. We will look back and to some extent we will wonder what all the fuss was about.”

Along with Rep. Simon, the Jewish community was well represented at the Capitol by Shir Tikvah, Jewish Community Action, Jewish Community Relations Council, and probably more. Rabbis both present at the capitol and not offered words of encouragement to the LGBT community.

Right: Rep. Steve Simon speaking to the bill’s supporters in the Capitol Rotunda.

Rabbi Michael Adam Latz of Shir Tikvah said, “The moment the votes were counted was a Sinai moment. Amidst the thunderous applause and effervescent joy, there was a pervasive calm. We have walked along way on this road to equality. A few more steps and we’ve reached the Promised Land.”

Rabbi Morris Allen of Beth Jacob has long been a leader in the fight for equal rights, even officiating a marriage ceremony for a gay couple last September. In a letter to his openly gay constituents the night before the vote he said, “I told a couple some 18 years ago that I was willing to work with them on a ‘Commitment Ceremony’ (Simhat brit shutafot) but was not yet able to call it marriage.” He said today is a day of celebration and a chance to show that “the idea of kvod habriyot [human dignity], is at the core of our being.”

Every rabbi we talked to was genuinely excited and optimistic about what this bill achieves. Rabbi Alexander Davis of Beth El said, “I look forward to the day when the right to marry is protected by law so that the blessings and sanctity of marriage can be equally extended to all Minnesotans.”

Rabbi David Locketz of Bet Shalom was proud that the debate today remained respectful and calm and added, “But more than anything, I am happy for all Minnesotans as we take this great historic step toward marriage equality.

And Rabbi Aaron Weininger of Adath Jeshurun said, “Today’s vote is a reminder that we can raise our voices for the freedom to marry because of our faith, not in spite of it. We have the power to choose whether the giving of Torah, which we celebrate next week on Shavuot, is done with open hands that reach out with love.”

Thursday’s vote marks a giant step forward for equality in Minnesota. As evidenced by the quotes above, it is certainly within the teachings of Judaism to embrace this fight for marriage equality. “My own inspiration comes in part from my Judaism,” said Rep. Simon. “The effort to guarantee more equality is totally consistent with those values, and the way I internalize my Jewish values makes this work a strong priority.”

We asked him if he’d been invited yet to dance the hora at any gay/lesbian weddings this summer. He said no. But if you know any Jewish and gay or lesbian couples getting married in the next few months, please encourage them to invite Minnesota State Rep. Steve Simon to the wedding. He said he’d be thrilled to attend.

Check out this video of Rep. Simon’s speech on the House floor. He uses Jewish teachings to make his case for marriage equality. Courtesy of UpTakeVideo.

At top: Rabbi Adam Latz of Shir Tikvah and Taina Maki share an emotional hug after the bill passes the House. (Thank you to Ethan Roberts/JCRC for the photos)

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