On May 11, Sen. Scott Dibble stood up on the floor of the Minnesota Senate and held a photo of his husband, Richard Levya.
Dibble, the only openly gay Minnesota state senator, was making a final appeal to his colleagues before they passed a bill that set the stage for a 2012 Minnesota ballot question to ban same-sex marriage.
“Here’s a picture of myself and my husband Richard,” he told the 65-member Senate. “What’s so different about us? What’s so dangerous? What’s the problem?”
After his speech, all 37 Senate Republicans and one Democrat voted for the bill.
If voters in 2012 approve the constitutional amendment, judges or future legislatures will be unable to overturn Minnesota’s existing law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Fifty-one percent of state voters need to approve the ballot question for it to go into effect.
Dibble, who married Levya while same-sex marriage was legal in California in 2008, spoke to The Journal after the bill passed the Senate but before it passed the House.
The 45-year-old DFLer represents most of Southwest Minneapolis and has served nine years in the Minnesota Senate.
The Journal: What have the last few weeks been like for you as this bill has moved through committees and onto the Senate floor?
Dibble: It’s been many things. It’s been very emotional, which, of course, draws a lot of energy. I try to remain centered in my person and remain healthy so I can do the best job possible. I’m very conscious of that, so I try to get my rest and I try to eat well, and I get my exercise every day and I rely heavily on the people that I love, including my husband. It’s been very difficult and draining but I’m still very present and engaged. It’s also been very affirming to see the amazing response that has been generated by Minnesotans across the spectrum. The GLBT community has really risen up to speak up and speak out on this, but people from across the spectrum — allies and friends and family and people from every corner of the state. I have literally received hundreds and hundreds of e-mails from people across the state, and my colleagues have to.
It’s also been very disappointing and extremely discouraging to see people who otherwise call themselves my friends in the Republican party just completely close their ears to the impact that taking this vote has on peoples’ lives.
These are co-workers that you have worked with in the past on bipartisan bills. Do you think it will be difficult to work with them in the future?
It has definitely changed the nature of our relationship, and there’s no getting around that fact. I will absolutely do what I need to do to continue to garner collegiality and respect. There are many items of business that are not about me, and they’re not about them, not about our relationship. We don’t really matter as individuals necessarily — we’re working on issues much larger than ourselves: the 5 million people who live in Minnesota. So I will absolutely do what needs to be done, but we are human beings and this is a work place, and it’s difficult. Time will tell how profoundly our relationships will be changed, but right now it’s very tough.
How much time do you think you’ll be spending in 2012 campaigning for your own Senate seat versus campaigning against this amendment?
Needless to say I will be campaigning a lot on my own behalf, because part of what we do in Senate District 60, is even though we h ave strong DFL indexes — we’ve done a reasonably good job and people support us in fairly large numbers — we’re also campaigning in our own district on behalf of the larger DFL ticket and trying to maximize turnout and awareness of the issues.
But I will definitely be spending some time fighting this amendment if it is headed toward the ballot.
How do you see the gay community organizing in the next 18 months or so. Who do you look to as taking a lead?
A campaign that is larger than any one organization will come together. It will be a coalition effort. It won’t just be the GLBT community, but it will be friends, allies, stakeholders from many sectors and facets of Minnesota life. I think (it will be) the business community, labor, arts, academia, parents, faith community — it will be a broad coalition of folks who understand this is not good for Minnesota. This is bad. This is decisive. And what they’ll try to do is overcome the negativity that is going to come from the other side, with positive messages and truthful messages and affirming messages. I anticipate that much of our work will take the form of a lot of grassroots, shoe-leather campaigning. There will definitely be some of the paid media, putting images and messages out on the airwaves in the form of commercials and on the radio and TV and elsewhere, but I think most of this work is really done one-on-one, heart-to-heart, on the doorsteps.
Do you think Minnesota voters will pass this amendment?
I think it’s going to come right down to the wire, to be honest with you. I think it is entirely possible (the trend of 31 states passing the amendment) stops in Minnesota. We’ve seen 31 states pass this thing, and it’s entirely within the realm of my imagination that it stops here. But it will only be stopped with a tremendous amount of hard work and effort to overcome what I think will be over $8 million coming from the Mormons in Utah and Catholic Archdioceses and the Tea Partiers who claim this pretext of economic issues but are actually interested in
social issues. We’re going to have to overcome these millions of dollars of funds that are going to fuel a campaign of lies, disinformation and deceit. That’s going to be hard, and we’re going to have to work very hard.
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