A new advocacy group focusing on rights for same-sex couples is launching a campaign to educate Minnesotans about the discriminatory nature of Minnesota’s statutes. Project 515 hopes to shift the discussion regarding same-sex relationships from the divisive rhetoric over gay marriage and activist judges to one Minnesotans support — giving same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.
“We are confident that the personal stories of Minnesotans who have experienced the negative impact of state laws first-hand will illustrate the need for fairness and remind us that Minnesota law is far from treating residents equally,” said Project 515 board member Laura Smidzik in a press release late last week.
Citing public opinion polls over the last few years that demonstrate the willingness of Minnesotans to support equal treatment under the law for their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender neighbors, Project 515 argues that LGBT people are currently not treated fairly under 515 Minnesota’s statutes.
A report released last week lists the 515 discriminatory statutes and their effects on same-sex couples. The report outlines some particularly discriminatory statutes as well as some that are very obscure.
* Spouses are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if their spouse is killed at work. However, a long-term but unmarried partner is not allowed to receive similar benefits.
* If victims are killed during crimes, their families are entitled to restitution. Same-sex partners are not considered family under the law, and therefore cannot receive restitution.
* Minnesotans may submit their spouses’ campaign donations. However, people who have been in a relationship for decades cannot submit campaign donations on behalf of their partners.
* The surviving spouse of a law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty may receive a payment of $100,000. The same benefi t is not available to the committed but unmarried partner of a law enforcement offi cer killed during duty.
* Farmers may slaughter their poultry to feed their immediate family members without getting a food handler’s license. Same-sex partners are not legally considered family members. As a result, farmers need a special license to slaughter their poultry for their same-sex partners.
* Holders of licenses to hunt deer on their own land may transfer those licenses to their spouses. But it is not legal for hunters to transfer their licenses to a partner they have lived with for years.
“Project 515 will be exclusively dedicated to, and will stay laser-focused on, the elimination of the 515 statutory inequities to secure equal rights for same-sex couples and families under the law,” Smidzik told Lavender Magazine. “Marriage is one mechanism to achieve equality,” she said. “But before we even discuss the ‘how’, we need to understand the ‘what’: the 515 inequalities and their consequences on society.”
“Minnesotans have really only talked about gay marriage, which polling shows is polarizing and something that most Minnesotans don’t support,” Project 515 board member Lee Anderson told Lavender. “But, those same polls show that Minnesotans support fairness for all Minnesotans, including same-sex couples. When we talk about the 515 state laws that treat same-sex couples unequally, people are shocked by the actual discrimination we face. Project 515 will use this broad-based support to advocate for change over time.”
John Sullivan, senior vice president and general counsel of Imation Corp., gave Star Tribune readers some background on the issue. “Let’s save the marriage debate for another day,” wrote Sullivan. “The reality is that thousands of Minnesotans are in committed same-sex relationships — in fact, 9,000 or more, according to census data. Many are raising families, and all are contributing to their communities. Yet, they are confronted every day with blatant discrimination — not from the actions of individuals, but from the state that for everyone else is expected to assure equal rights under the law.
Project 515’s expected launch is October 17.