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PFLAG conversations explore impact of proposed marriage amendment on local families

MORRIS - On Tuesday, Nov. 6, Minnesota citizens will vote on a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

As members of Morris Area PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) talked with people in the community about the amendment, they found many people who felt their vote on the amendment wouldn't have an impact, since even if the amendment fails, gay marriage will still be against the law in the state of Minnesota, explained PFLAG member Argie Manolis.

After discussing the question of why the amendment matters, the group decided to organize a series of community conversations, hoping to give undecided voters an idea of how the marriage amendment could impact families in the community.

"It won't change the law, but the impact of putting a definition of marriage as one man and one woman impacts people emotionally or how they think of their role in the community," said Manolis.

Although the two discussions were not as well-attended as organizers hoped, they hope the project was a chance to educate voters and give community members a chance to share their stories about this issue, said Manolis.

The first panel, held on Thursday, Oct. 11, featured Jim and Bonnie Thoreen, a local couple who has shifted their views on marriage over time; Dave Swenson and Drew Israels, a gay couple who have been together for 17 years; and Cheryl Higgins, Swenson's mother who spoke about her experiences when her son came out and her experiences in the community, said Manolis.

Panelists at the second conversation, held on Thursday, Oct. 18, emphasized their feeling that passing the amendment would be damaging for families in the community.

Jennifer Rothchild, a University of Minnesota, Morris sociologist and panelist with her husband, Chris Butler, said she felt the amendment was "not doing the right thing by letting love be love and families be family."

"As a social scientist, I have a responsibility with what I do and the kind of work that I do, to advocate for families, advocate for kids, that this is good for everyone," said Rothchild. "It's wrong and hurtful to move forward in this way."

Morris residents John and Deb Luetmer echoed Rothchild's feeling that "love is love," but also questioned the use of the state constitution as a vehicle for an amendment about marriage.

"It seems like we've got the door shut and now we want to nail it shut, is the sense I get from this proposed amendment," said John. "To me, it makes it really clumsy to move forward and have discussions as a community about what we support and what we don't support."

Although panelists Jackie and Kilo Dunn were already married in Iowa, and, therefore, the amendment wouldn't legally impact their family, Jackie said voting no on the amendment would be like "breaking the foundation" in the state.

Both also emphasized the impact the amendment could have on their children, who Jackie said shouldn't have to hear that it is "wrong" for their parents to be together.

"It's the vocal minority, I think, because the majority sit back and don't say as much or don't know what to say, so it's easy for the minority to push over those of us who are trying to do what's right," said Kilo.