For one Minneapolis family, gay marriage is a matter of fairness


For Lori Luchsinger and Karen Salmey, gaining the right to marry is simply a matter of fairness.

“We are no different than straight couples,” said Salmey, a surgical nurse who has been Luchsinger’s partner for 11 years. “We fall in love with each other and make a commitment to each other, wanting to spend the rest of our lives with each other.”

Asked to describe their relationship, Luchsinger took Salmey’s hand and said, “Really, she’s just the love of my life.” Salmey grinned, squeezed Luchsinger’s hand and replied, “It was just meant to be.”

An oasis of acceptance

In their neighborhood in south Minneapolis, the couple feels accepted. When Luchsinger’s twin sons went to preschool, she didn’t feel she had to tell them how to explain that they had two mommies. The boys’ first playmate was the son of another lesbian couple. Both Salmey’s and Luchsinger’s families support their relationship. In fact, both Luchsinger’s mother and brother are homosexual.

But the outside world isn’t as sympathetic. Salmey, 54, and Luchsinger, 51, know that if one of them dies, the surviving partner would not receive Social Security or pension benefits or inherit the other’s assets, as they could if they were married. Salmey’s family has assured the couple that if something were to happen to Karen, they would make sure Luchsinger would receive her assets.

“It’s true, there are some definite legal and financial repercussions,” said Luchsinger, a server and host at a St. Paul restaurant.

People who aren’t legally married sometimes have trouble visiting each other in the hospital. Salmey and Luchsinger plan to use Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, where Salmey works. They’re sure that if something were to happen, they would have no trouble visiting each other.

Right: Karen Salmey, left, and Lori Luchsinger have been partners for 11 years. For them, gaining the right to marry is simply a matter of fairness.

Puzzled, not angry

They are more puzzled than angry about the marriage amendment that will be on the Minnesota ballot this fall. If approved by voters, the amendment would change the Minnesota constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman. Neither a state court nor the state legislature could change that. Removing the restriction from the constitution would require another statewide vote.

“I really, genuinely do not understand the opposition” to same-sex marriage, Luchsinger said. “It seems like a really harmless civil right to grant. It would take away nothing from anyone. I am mystified by the opposition.”

As she talked in the small sunroom of their home, Luchsinger sat in a wooden chair. On the wooden bench beside her sat Salmey. Wedged beside Salmey were Will and Taylor Doherty, Luchsinger’s lanky 20-year-old sons from a previous lesbian relationship. The twins share a striking resemblance to their mother, complete with fair hair, a tall frame and a sarcastic, playful sense of humor. Both of them will be juniors at the University of Minnesota Duluth this fall.

Growing up with two moms

Asked if they felt they missed things that a father would have taught them, Taylor immediately stood up and in a very deep, loud, macho voice said, “NO! NEVER. NO. SO MANLY.”

His mom, stepmom — “Kare-bear” to the boys — and brother all laughed.

But in an email later, Will was more reflective: “Having a dad would be great but having two
moms is great too, and I wish some people could see that we aren’t that different.”

Even if the marriage amendment is defeated this fall and same-sex marriage is someday legalized, Luchsinger and Salmey realize that socially, they are by no means in the clear.

Just walking down the street, Salmey feels anxious when she holds Luchsinger’s hand or leans in for a kiss.

“We don’t typically get to hold hands, and sometimes we brave it and do,” Salmey said. “But there’s still a little bit of fear about it. I love going to places where I don’t have that, when I can do what I would do if I were straight.”

Salmey stopped and drew a breath. Then in a quiet, thin voice, she explained, “That gets me a little emotional.”