A group of gay and lesbian couples are organizing a lawsuit similar to one in California that resulted in laws against same-sex marriage in those states being struck down. Court challenges in Massachusetts and California seem to have provided lasting marriage equality for same-sex couples, but will Minnesota follow suit?
“We have waited long enough,” says Doug Benson. He and his partner, Duane, together for 18 years, are one of the pioneer couples looking to sue the state. “The point we want to make is to make sure equality is pursued wherever we can pursue it.” He continues, “Because we can’t sit around waiting for this to happen. We want this to become a reality here at home, and we are trying through the courts as well as through the Legislature.”
The first steps include finding about 30 couples to get involved in the suit. “We want a critical mass of couples involved,” Doug says. They’ve spoken with a law firm who is willing to take the case. In order to cover some of the legal expenses, couples signing on should be prepared to pay as much as $1,000. Couples have until Aug. 15 to sign up for the lawsuit.
So far, three have signed up, two of which have Canadian marriage licenses. Another handful are contemplating joining, but Doug and Duane are assuring them that the risks — at least financially — will be well worth it if the lawsuit is successful.
“In Doug and my case, we pay $3,000 more a year in taxes because we are not spouses,” says Duane. “Gays and lesbians face legal costs to get legal documents such as hospital visitation, care decisions, and so on — all that are granted by marriage.”
The lawsuit is a small price to pay for couples who could get significant financial relief through marriage.
Certain to be controversial, the lawsuit will challenge existing Minnesota law that prevents same-sex marriage on the grounds that such laws violate equal protection. Unlike California, Massachusetts and — for a brief time — Iowa, Minnesota already has a Supreme Court decision that bars same-sex marriage.
Baker v. Nelson was the first challenge to anti-marriage laws in the country. Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell applied for a marriage license in Hennepin County in 1970, and when they were denied a license the took the county to court — and lost.
The lawsuit is a step that local LGBT community groups have not been keen on taking, instead preferring to change the minds of Minnesotans and pass marriage equality legislatively.
While Doug and Duane have encountered some negativity to the lawsuit from community groups, they say it’s not up to organizations to help people achieve equality.
“We have a responsibility as citizens to take responsibility for ourselves. We can’t wait for organizations to do things for us. They can’t — and shouldn’t — do everything.”
On the chances of success, the couple says you’ll never know if you don’t try. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Doug. “We’re just taking it one step at a time.”
Doug Benson is coordinating couples for the lawsuit and asked me to share his contact information: Phone: 763-219-1206. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.