Monday, May 23, 2011

Doug Grow on Republican Rep. John Kriesel's Anti-Amendment Speech

Writes Doug Grow in his latest op-ed:

. . . The moment that most won't forget is when Rep. John Kriesel [right], R-Cottage Grove, rose late Saturday night to speak against the marriage amendment.

Kriesel, whose legs were badly mangled in Iraq, was described by [House Speaker Kurt] Zellers at the beginning of this session as "a rock star" of the Republican freshman class.

And now, here he was, speaking out passionately against a key Republican action.

"If this was five or six years ago," Kriesel said as he began his talk, "I probably would have voted 'yes' without really thinking about it."

Then, Kriesel told a silent House about suffering his wounds, laying in the dirt, legs mangled, thinking of his wife and kids and doubting that he'd ever see them again.

The thoughts of the people he loved, he said, made him fight for life.

"As bad as that day sucked," he said, "it's changed my life in good ways. What would I do without my wife?"

He talked of how it's a hard world and "that happiness is so hard to find." Why, he wondered, would legislators vote for something that would deny people who love each other the chance to marry?

"This amendment doesn't represent what I went to fight for," he said.

Before he spoke, Kriesel had made sure each legislator had received an 8 ½-by-11-inch copy of a photo of Army Spc. Andrew Wilfahrt in combat gear. The Minnesota man was killed in Afghanistan during the winter. He was gay.

Kriesel asked his colleagues to look at the picture and think about the young man's death.

"Good enough to give his life for his country, but not good enough to marry the person he loved?" Kriesel asked.

The speech will not be forgotten by members of either party, although Republicans give off the feeling they'd like to forget it — and the marriage amendment. But they didn't have the strength to turn down the most socially conservative portion of their base.

The Republicans "won" the vote 70-62. Two DFLers , Lyle Koener of Clara City and Denise Ditrrich of Champlin, voted with the Republican majority. Four Republicans voted against the amendment: Kriesel, Tim Kelly of Red Wing, Steve Smith of Mound and Rich Murray of Albert Lea.

And none of the [other] Republicans seemed eager to talk about their action. . . .

Despite the impassioned speech of Rep. John Kriesel and many other powerful testimonies, the Minnesota House voted 70-62 to allow voters to decide whether to limit civil marriage to heterosexual couples – a prohibition that already exists in state law.

Following is video footage of Rep. John Kriesel's entire speech. It really is essential viewing.

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
What a Man! – John Kriesel


Sage said...

Thanks Michael!

Clayton said...

This will be a worthwhile debate once people begin to talk about what is really at the heart of it: what is marriage?

Rep. Kriesel has articulated well, I think, what I hear from many quarters of those who are advocating for a right to same-sex marriage. Marriage, as he seems to articulate it, is what happens when two people fall in love with each other and decide to cohabitate on a permanent basis.

The question is: is that all the state understood marriage to mean when it began to bestow special benefits upon it?

In a sense, who could blame Kriesel from having such a reductive view of the ends of marriage, when so many heterosexuals have made their marriages sterile through contraception and abortion... which leaves little difference between complementary-sex marriage and what same-sex advocates have in mind?

Is the state recognition of marriage simply a form of government-sanctioned applause for people falling in love? How does that, in itself, represent a service to the common good that requires special encouragement from the state? There are probably simpler, more effective ways to build people's self-esteem than asking the government to offer it.

Personally, I wonder if the state shouldn't get out of the marriage business and offer benefits for the things it has a particular interest in encouraging: the procreation and education of the next generation of the human community.

Clayton said...

To lay it out a bit more completely, here is why I think the state might not take a lively interest in favoring same-sex unions (in the way that marriage is favored): these unions are infertile in all cases (not just because of some failure in the natural working of things... but also when everything is working right).

The state does not know if a man and a woman who contract marriage will beget children, but it is a likely thing in many cases.

I suppose as a gardener, I could put a seed in the ground, and it might sprout into a plant, or it might not. But it would be a very strange thing if I didn't plant a seed in the ground, and still somehow had the expectation that a plant would emerge from the soil. And one might be forgiven for not taking a robust interest in the hopes of a crop predicated on the practice of no longer planting seeds.

Of course, many heterosexuals have stopped planting seeds. Actually, that is putting it too generously. Many are actively using every variety of herbicide, or are simply scorching the earth. And, as a result, the harvest is greatly reduced. Why should the state be favoring gardeners who no longer even have the intention of producing a yield?

It seems to me that the primary contribution of marriages to the wider society -- not the only one, granted, but a singular and essential one -- is to cultivate new human life. Human persons are valuable in themselves and for their own sake, and they also represent a great good for the future of the human community.

Wouldn't the state do better simply to attach benefits to the procreation and education of children? It seems that is the interest to be protected, rather than merely falling in love and deciding to cohabitate.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter.

The last part of your first comment brings to mind Stephanie Coontz's observation that:

"Once marriage came to be seen as an institution bringing together two individuals based on mutual affection and equality, without regard to rigidly defined gender roles or the ability to procreate, it's not surprising that gays and lesbians said, 'That now describes our relationships too, so why can't we marry?'"

She goes on to say that: "If you don't like these changes in the institution, blame your grandparents, not the gay and lesbian couples seeking entry into this new model of marriage."

Personally, I like what Catholic theologian Daniel Maguire offers as a definition of marriage.

"Marriage," he writes, "can be defined as the unique and special form of committed friendship between sexually attracted persons. This definition does not say that the persons have to be heterosexually attracted. Persons attracted to a person of their same sex can still be married. Marriage is a supreme human good involving exclusive, committed, enduring, generous, and faithful love, and this kind of love is not something that only heterosexuals can achieve. . . . Friendship and love and commitment are human virtues and gay and lesbian persons are human and fully capable of a healthy human committed love in marriage. We have no moral right to declare marriage off limits to persons whom God has made gay. We have no right to say that marriage, with all of its advantages and beauty, is a reward for being heterosexual."

Powerful words, wouldn't you agree?

Of course, for most people, the bottom line is that regardless of how we understand what marriage is, if, in the U.S., we recognize gay people as human and as full citizens, then the Constitution guarantees that they have equal protection of the law. They have the same rights as any heterosexual -- including civil marriage rights. I for one find it deeply disturbing that here in Minnesota we're now going to allow voters to decide on whether or not we're going to violate someone’s constitutional rights.

As for the idea that marriage is all about procreation, I appreciate Dave Mindeman's perspective:

"There is [no] legal qualification that a marriage must be about biology. When children are involved, it’s not about marriage . . . it’s about family. You actually don’t have to have a license to be a family. . . . [Many people mix up] marriage with family. The real purpose of a marriage is to vow a commitment to a monogamous relationship. You are committing yourself to one person, till death do you part. Children can be a product of that relationship, but again, that is not about the marriage, that is about the family. . . . A monogamous sexual relationship doesn’t have to come to 'productive ends.' Many heterosexual couples live their entire lives without having children – are they any less married?"



Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Some more thoughts: I have to say that the most striking aspect of your comments is how they completely ignore the reality of adoption by both straight and gay couples.

Gay couples are raising children in our society. Gay families exist. These are undeniable realities.

As Dale Carpenter writes:

"There are about 150,000 gay or lesbian Minnesotans. The 2000 census revealed that there are about 9,000 same-sex unmarried-partner households in the state. Whether by adoption or biology, thousands of children here are being raised by gay parents. Minnesota is also one of about half the states where it is possible for a same-sex partner to share full legal responsibility with the biological parent.

"The state encourages the formation of gay families. Yet when it comes to protecting these families in the law, Minnesota treats them as worthless. It makes no provision for them.

"Marriage offers families irreplaceable legal, care-giving and social support. Law confers rights and imposes obligations on married people in ways often designed to sustain them in times of crisis. It also encourages spouses to commit to each other. It makes them think twice about splitting up. Children are more secure in households where their parents are married.

"The welfare of gay persons and their children is a material and moral concern for every humane and civilized citizen. . . ."

I get tired of witnessing the reality of gay families denied by people, just as much as I get tired of hearing anti-gay organizations like NOM and the Minnesota Catholic Conference say that "children do best when raised by a mother and a father." No empirical evidence is ever offered to support this claim.

There are studies available that address this issue, yet none of their findings support the statements of NOM and the MN Catholic Conference.

One example: in a 2002 article in Pediatrics [Vol. 109 No. 2 February 2002, pp. 341-344], the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is reported that, “A growing body of scientific literature demonstrates that children who grow up with one or two gay and/or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual. Children’s optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by the particular structural form it takes.”

If the MN Catholic Conference of Bishops really believed that children are in any kind of danger as the result of not being raised by "a mother and a father," then why isn't it advocating for the removal of these children from their same-sex parents? Since it's not doing that, are we to assume that it is okay with same-sex couples raising and adopting children? And, if so, why does it ten turn around and seek to punish these children and families by denying them the rights, benefits and protections afforded to families by civil marriage?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these questions.



Sage said...

Clayton, Michael--I've appreciated your collective comments here.

Michael, you have articulated, in your last set of comments, questions and ideas I too was beginning to formulate as I read Clayton's comments more thoroughly a second time around.

Michael, you speak like someone who obviously has been involved in exploring and navigating the overarching issues here on a very deep levels. It seems you have had to analyze all the variously subtle and not so subtle elements of the whole debate in Minnesota. I was living in San Francisco at the time that state was going through the process of ultimately adopting proposition 8. I was heavily involved in the attempt to eliminate that proposition from the consciousness of the state of California. That forced me to look at all the elements as well. I was fascinated by all the nuances about marriage I had to become conscious of--nuances, I would have not previously ever considered.Thanks to you both.

Clayton said...

Thanks for responding, Michael.

It will be another day or so before I take the time to site down and respond to your points in detail.

I wish someone would invent a technology that is better for dialogue than the blog comment box. It's linear, doesn't allow for branching, and posts travel down the stream of posts and are more difficult to find as time passes. It's really clumsy. But it's all we have right now, I guess...

Anonymous said...

Lori Wilfahrt Speech at Outserve October 2011

Representative Kreisel in the speech against placing a constitutional marriage amendment on the ballot referred to U.S. Army Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt (Killed In Action in Afghanistan in 2011). A few days ago, the mother of Cpl. Wilfahrt spoke at the first conference of (The Association of Actively Serving LGBT Military Personnel) after the repeal of the military's discriminatory Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) policy. Lori Wilfahrt's speech was elegant: graceful, dignified, and powerfully simple.

Andrew Wilfahrt's legacy is just beginning because of the extraordinary efforts of both his parents for the cause of marriage equality. For military and civilian gay people, marriage equality would mark the end of the last major vestige of government-sanctioned discrimination in our country. The ideal of equality is baked into the soul of America. The Founding Fathers considered the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be unalienable rights, even though their own lives did not reconcile discrimination based on race, gender, and sexuality. The reconciliation of the ideal in concept with the actual experience of equality has taken hundreds of years. Andrew's legacy now contributes to that reconciliation of equality, through the speeches of his parents (multiplied on the Internet) and conversations around "Andrew's Round Table."

I can imagine that the spirit of Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt is dancing for joy to experience his mom and dad speaking with such elegant power. With grace and dignity, they are embracing positions of advocacy accidentally arising because their son (who happened to be gay) had the courage to volunteer for the military, and gave his life serving a country founded on the ideal of equality.

Sage said...

There is a new post over at LBGT|POV with GREAT coverage of the recent OutServe Summit in Las Vegas that among other things includes a mention of the ongoing work of Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt on which includes their incredible work for Marriage Equality behalf of their son, in the state of Minnesota.

The post can be found here: