In the last decade or so, I’ve spent a lot of time in Minnesota. My brother Ben got his PhD and raised a family in St. Paul for eight years, and just before he graduated and took his family elsewhere, I met and married a woman from the northern part of the state: a town called Crookston. We visit at least twice a year, if not three or four times, and I just plain love it. The state really means a lot to me. The people who live there, my family and friends, mean even more.
Everyone talks about how people in the state are “Minnesota Nice,” but the most amazing quality I’ve seen in people is their immense generosity. They do big favors for each other without a moment’s hesitation. When my wife and I needed to unload an old storage locker full of furniture, one phone call (with no more than 20 minutes’ notice) got us two pickup trucks and four family members. At funerals — of which, I should say, I have attended too many in Minnesota — what feels like three dozen women will appear seemingly out of nowhere with crock pots full of soup, urns of hot coffee, and trays of baked goods to feed all the mourners. If you need something, people seem to stumble all over themselves to help you out, no matter what that something is.
The abundant kindness people show you in Minnesota makes me feel two things. First, it makes me super-serious about returning the favor. I want to pitch in wherever I can, whatever that might look like. No matter how often I offer to cook meals for people, though, or shovel somebody’s porch off, or do dishes after dinner, or pick up something helpful at the store — it never feels like I’m doing enough. (I suspect it feels the same to them, too, which is why they never quit!) Second, it makes me sort of reluctant to ASK for favors in the first place. I feel like I REALLY ought to need it when I ask my friends or family — let alone complete strangers — to lend me a hand.
That’s why I take the thing I’m about to ask for VERY seriously. I know it’s a big one, and I know my friends and family are really going to want to help me, even if it doesn’t seem easy. (And it’s not only them I’m asking, either. It’s the entire state of Minnesota!) The big favor I’m hoping you’ll all do for me? I’d like to ask everyone in the state to vote no on the upcoming same sex marriage amendment.
Like I say, I know this might be a hard one. I’m not asking any of you to change your minds about same sex marriage, just so you know. I respect the fact that for some people, marriage just IS the union between one man and one woman. (Heck, that’s the kind of marriage I’m in, and I like it just fine!) I’m not asking you, any of you, to think any differently, or change your beliefs. I’m just asking you to, you know, vote no on the amendment anyway.
I’m asking for two reasons.
One is that I happen to know several people in same sex partnerships living in Minnesota whose lives would really be a whole lot easier if they could get legally married. Even just, you know, registering the kids for school could be so much less of a hassle. And then there are some pretty big heartbreaks they have to deal with, too, like not being able to visit their dying partners in hospitals. It’s terrible stuff, and if you would just say “Okay, I don’t really like it, but I don’t want anybody to suffer,” you could make a huge difference.
The other reason I’m asking is a bit more personal. You see… I’m actually thinking about moving my family to Minnesota — Minneapolis or St. Paul — permanently. Not right away, mind you, but not all that many years from now, either. As I mentioned already, my wife is from there, and I figure that if Minnesota made a woman as terrific as her, it’d probably be a good place for our son to spend a few years, too. And I think a lot about what I’d be offering him: the lakes, the people, the culture, and of course all our dear friends and family. There’s so much going for the state!
But I also want to make sure I’d be taking him to a place where no matter who he is, no matter who he loves, he’d be fully accepted. Not only at the Thanksgiving dinner table — I know my family is going to love our son unconditionally — but wherever he might go: at his job, in school, and in the world at large. I just want to make sure that the deck wouldn’t be legally stacked against him, if he turns out to be gay. Like every dad in the whole world, all I want for my son is to be happy and healthy and free. I want him to get whatever he wants out of life. I want all his dreams, whatever they might be, to come true.
So… that’s the favor I’m asking, really. Help me be the kind of dad we all want to be. Help me create possibilities for my son. Lay out a welcome mat — as everyone in the state has always done for me — for my whole family.
Thanks so much for listening. See you this Christmas, Minnesota!