Free at last: Same-sex marriage celebrations rock St. Paul, not to mention church and state


An estimated 7,000 people partied down in St. Paul Tuesday, coming to the Capitol lawn and braving record 98-degree heat to celebrate the dawn of a new era: Same-sex marriages are now enshrined in law — a law signed under the blazing sun by Gov. Mark Dayton after a week’s worth of impassioned debates in the Legislature, years of tumultuous politics and decades of effort by a GLBT community that wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Dayton, during an hour-long ceremony that taxed the ability of many to stand in the heat for the first time in what seemed like years after a long, hard winter, saluted the campaign for marriage equality, saying it has always represented “the next step ahead to fulfilling this country’s promise to every American.”

Unspoken was any mention of the large societal institutions that — for decades — used all their political clout and influence to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage. But you couldn’t forget them, if you looked around the scene on Tuesday: The signing of the historic new freedom bill took place under God’s blue skies but also under the imposing edifices of The Cathedral of St. Paul, the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs and the State Capitol itself.

The Three Amigos: Church, Military, State. With scorching sermons from the pulpit, with speeches of denunciation on the floors of the Legislature, with the arbitrary and cruel ending of careers and removals from the ranks — the great powers of our society strove for decades to keep Tuesday’s ceremony and celebration from happening.

Somewhere, up on the hill, an archbishop was gnashing his teeth.

Astonishingly, the Three Amigos failed. In the end, the same-sex marriage campaign was a people’s campaign that rose from the streets and from the neighborhood and from the intersecting communities of individual churches, families, businesses and social justice groups to overcome the powers that be. Same-sex marriage now is a right, won by a fight. The institutions that opposed it have been vanquished. The celebrating thousands yesterday, dancing almost literally in the shadows of the great buildings of church and state, were celebrating their freedom from those same institutions.

Gay or not, there is inspiration in that. Enough to go around and to serve the cause of the next big fights, for immigration rights, gun safety, housing justice, whatever they prove to be. The people, eventually, hold the only power that matters.

An impromptu parade followed the ceremonies to downtown St. Paul, led by the Minnesota Freedom Band, which has been playing at Twin Cities Pride festivals since 1982 (this year’s Pride will be held June 29-30 at Loring Park in Minneapolis). The band played “Celebration” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” as it marched to Ecolab Plaza for a night of street party and celebration, including The Suburbs and a frenzied finish with a performance of the unofficial anthem of the same-sex marriage effort: “Love is the Law.”

St. Paul is not a city that goes Gaga lightly.

David Flynn-Pigeon was playing soprano sax in the Freedom Band, and reflecting on how fast, and how dramatically, marriage freedom has come to Minnesota. “It’s nice that my friends in the band won’t have to do like my husband, Anthony, and I had to do. We had to fly to Canada (to London, Ontario) to get married in 2011.

“That was expensive.”

Beginning Aug. 1 — barring successful court challenge or a new barrier raised by the U.S. Supreme Court — same-sex marriage will be as cheap or expensive, as formal or informal, as any other kind of marriage. And, best of all: It will be right here. In Brainerd. Or Blaine. Duluth or Detroit Lakes. Moorhead or Mankato.

Easy as pie. Well, not that easy. But easy as the exercise of any human right — by law, finally — should be.

“I’m old enough to remember how much things have changed,” said Bob Wright, a 71-year-old who was holding hands with Brian Boardman, who is 64. They looked like old friends who might be next-door neighbors. But they have been together as a couple for 13 years, since Wright’s previous partner of 34 years died.

“It’s about time that this came.” Wright said. “It’s wonderful.”

Are you going downtown to celebrate and see the free concert, I asked.

“No,” Boardman said as he and Wright started walking away from the Capitol.

“We’re going to the bar!”

Rum-and-cokes were on the menu yesterday. And a wedding in August.

Anything can happen.

Video by Hlee Lee, story by Nick Coleman

Nick Coleman is Executive Editor of The UpTake.