On this Memorial Day, I’m remembering those who defended my country, and those who died for it.
One story that’s moved me this spring strikes at the core of what it means to be an American, to love this country, to honor its values: the death of Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt and his family’s standing up for equality for all people. Andrew Wilfahrt was a gay man; this was the least interesting thing about him. What those who served with him remember is a soldier who was there for his fellow soldiers. He’s buried now in the national cemetery at Fort Snelling, along with one of my own uncles who died in the Malmedy Massacre and with hundreds of others who served their country.
Wilfahrt’s life and death became an emblem of equality in in recent debates over a bill to amend the Minnesota constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Those opposing the bill–and now the amendment–have risen to rare eloquence, none more than that of a Republican freshman legislator who lost the lower part of his legs in Iraq when an IED exploded.
In this video, John Kriesel points toward protesters chanting during this statement, saying that that America was the one he had fought for. I’d like to believe that this is where Andrew’s heart is, in the America that includes everyone, and values everyone, but there are others, equally American, who believe otherwise. This is their right; some may even object to the posting of this video on Memorial Day. That, too, is their right.
My beloved state now faces a debate and a fight over fundamentals: who we are, what we love, how a society will recognize that love, and what love will matter. This Memorial Day, I’m siding with the Wilfahrt family and Representative John Kriesel, a straight, married, conservative man, in saying Yes to a society which respects love, and on Election Day in November 2012, saying “Hell No!” to those who would deny equality for Andrew and everyone. I’d prefer that no one’s fundamental rights and dignity be put up for a vote, but since vote I must, it’s “Hell No.”
Thank you, John Kriesel. Thank you, Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt. And thank you, Andrew Wilfahrt.
For more information about Andrew Wilfahrt’s service, watch this Youtube from the Courage Campaign.