MARSHALL - The talk often focuses on legal rights, Siobhan Brewer said. But the discussion of whether Minnesota should allow same-sex marriages goes far beyond that. It's about the lives of family, friends and loved ones.
"The strategy is simple - just talking to each other," said Brewer, a member of the advocacy group OutFront Minnesota, during an event held Wednesday night at Southwest Minnesota State University. Persuading people not to vote for the amendment "is all about knowing people," and sharing personal stories, speakers at the event said.
Presentations and a panel discussion on marriage equality were held at the SMSU campus. Speakers ranged from SMSU faculty and students to community members and advocates for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
A large audience attended the event. Derick Schultz, president of the SMSU GLBTA (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally) organization, said the turnout was more than organizers had expected.
"We had figured for about 75 people," Schultz said, and instead additional chairs had to be brought in.
A major focus of Wednesday's program was education about a proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, which would recognize only marriages between one man and one woman as valid.
"A lot of people don't realize what the amendment is about," said Joseph Guzman, diversity inclusion chairman of the SMSU Student Senate. Event organizers made sure the audience's programs included the full text of the ballot question, as it will be presented to voters in November.
The amendment would need a majority vote to either pass or fail. But if it is passed, Brewer said, the constitutional amendment could only be repealed through a supermajority of the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate. The chances of that, she said, would be slim.
"These days, you don't really get a supermajority of the House and Senate," she said.
Brewer said advocacy groups like OutFront Minnesota and Minnesotans United for All Families are speaking out against the proposed amendment and inviting open conversations about equality for GLBT people. Brewer said sharing personal stories helps to create common ground, which is important because the marriage amendment would have far-reaching effects. Heterosexual married couples have rights that same-sex couples do not, said panelist Brent Jeffers. These include hospital visitation rights and the right to determine what happens to a partner's remains.
Panelist Jan Knieff added that, while it is possible for a same-sex couple to work out legal agreements that allow those things, the agreements are often ignored by family members or other people.
"You can do all those legal steps, but it doesn't come anywhere close" to the recognition a marriage has, she said.
"We all need to consider our values," Jeffers said. "I really believe fairness and equitable treatment is a Minnesotan value."
In addition to voting "no" on the marriage amendment, speakers said there were many ways that people could work for equality in their communities. Taking a stand against bullying and derogatory comments like "that's so gay," was another important part of being an ally.
As Nov. 6 gets closer, said Michelle Fournier of OutFront Minnesota, "This constitutional amendment fight is going to get ugly." There will be a greater risk of violence or harassment against GLBT people, she said.
Schultz and Guzman said it was important that students and other young people know it's not OK to target someone for their sexual orientation.
"Being gay is not an insult that you fling around," Schultz said. "We as a society need to change the message that we are sending to young people."
Getting involved in local groups, like the university GLBTA organization or PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is another way to show support, speakers said.