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Matt Von Pinnon, Published February 09 2013

Von Pinnon: These days, gay rights debates no longer novel

Eleven years ago next month, while working as a Forum reporter, I wrote a story that divided the community like no other story I’d reported before.

A Fargo family of four, headed by two lesbians, sought and were denied a family membership at the YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties.

Three days after the story was reported, dozens of activists seeking to change that policy picketed the downtown Y. Public forums were held for members and citizens to share their opinions. Letters to the editor on both sides of the debate filled the pages of this newspaper.

Four months later, when the YMCA’s board voted to create a “household membership” for the same cost as a “family membership,” the Y’s local board president said the move addressed the ever-changing makeup of today’s families.

The leader of a local gay activist group at the time put it this way: “This is only the beginning.”

Fast forward to last week and this headline in The Forum: “Local gay couple denied ‘family’ golf pass in Fargo: Park Board plans to look at issue soon.”

In some ways, the circumstances of the former case and new case are similar: A Fargo lesbian couple wants to golf on public courses at the same pay rate as other families in the area. In light of this, the Park Board now plans to review their golf pass policy, which defines family based on North Dakota law and IRS standards, similar standards used to define the local YMCA’s policy 11 years ago.

What’s different in this recent case? The couple was legally married in Iowa, an option not available in the United States when the other couple sought a YMCA family membership.

What else has changed in the past 11 years? Some might say very little, given we have a similar local case 11 years removed. On the other hand, a lot has changed in that time.

Our president is using his position to push for gay marriage equality, as is Minnesota’s governor.

Minnesota was the first state to vote down an amendment enshrining in the constitution the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

North Dakota is again hearing proposed legislation that would protect gays from employment and housing discrimination. National and international faith organizations continue to grapple with whether to allow gay clergy.

The Boy Scouts of America announced it will soon consider whether to ease the longstanding ban on gays by allowing sponsors of local troops to decide for themselves on the membership of gay Scouts and adult leaders.

And in perhaps the biggest cultural test to date, the nation’s armed forces now welcome openly gay people into the military.

Just last week, a reader called me and accused The Forum of pushing a pro-gay agenda by running so many stories – one on the front page – concerning the many topics listed above.

I assured him The Forum has no such agenda – that we report the news of our community, region and nation. It just so happens much of the news these days revolves around gay rights efforts. Our stories simply mirror what’s happening in the world.

Some also might remember that last summer The Forum itself was in the middle of a controversy regarding gay marriage announcements. We, too, had a public notice policy based on North Dakota and Minnesota laws. We changed to now accept notices of all legal marriages, no matter where they are performed. For some, that change went too far. For others, it didn’t go far enough. We chose to use undeniable fact as a standard, just as we always do.

Would the massive public uproar over the 2002 YMCA case happen in today’s environment? Hard to say.

So far, there hasn’t been any picketing outside the Fargo Park District offices.


Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.