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Helmut Schmidt, Published May 09 2013

Moorhead-area backers elated by House vote

MOORHEAD – Members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community and their supporters are celebrating the Minnesota House’s 75-59 vote Thursday to approve a bill that would allow same-sex weddings beginning this summer.

At Minnesota State University Moorhead, students in the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance listened to the two-hour debate online or got updates from friends.

“I’m really pleased that it went through,” said Yalonda Nelson, who grew up in Minnesota.

But she doesn’t plan to rush to the altar.

“It’s not about going and rushing and getting married. It’s about the right to get married,” she said.

Rose Zawislak said she raced through a final after she got the news that House File 1054 passed. She then did a happy dance.

“A friend texted me … three times! … and said it passed,” she said. “I finished up the final as fast as I could,” rushed out into the hall, “and jumped up and down.”

Zawislak said she’s waiting for the bill to pass the Senate and get Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature, because then she wins a bet.

If one of her friends stays with her girlfriend, “I get to plan her wedding,” she said.

The Senate takes up the companion legislation, Senate File 925, on Monday.

Dustin White is an MSUM student and president of the Moorhead-based Pride Collective and Community Center.

“I think it’s great that we are making that step,” the Fargo resident said.

“A lot of the GLBT community have simply moved over to Minnesota anyway because the laws are friendly there,” White said.

“A couple of our board members are in committed relationships and a couple of them have kids,” he said. “I’m sure as soon as (a gay marriage law) passes, they’ll be ready to get married.”

Mark Altenburg, a Moorhead City Council member who is also on the city’s Human Rights Commission said it is a good day to be a Minnesotan.

“This is a good vote. It’s a good thing for Moorhead and a good thing for Minnesota,” Altenburg said.

In 2010, Altenburg was one of three council members who voted to create a domestic partnership registry in Moorhead. The initiative failed on a 3-5 vote.

Backers said the registry could have helped domestic partners get employment benefits.

“A lot of my friends and colleagues are in committed relationships, gay and lesbian,” Altenburg said. The House vote “seemed like the absolute right thing to do.”

Altenburg said a few years ago he thought the idea of civil unions was a good alternative to granting gays and lesbians the right to marry. He said his thinking has since evolved.

“The more I talked to people, I realized that you can’t have separate but unequal marriage,” he said.

Still, Altenburg said it was important the House bill was changed to refer to marriage as civil marriage and not a religious marriage. The idea is not to redefine marriage, but expand it to include more people.

He said a colleague and her partner live with their two children down the street from his family.

“I look forward to their wedding,” Altenburg said. “I’m sure it’s going to happen this summer. They’ve already lined up a pastor.”

The Forum requested comment on the vote from the Catholic Diocese of Crookston, but received no reply.

Nelson said she hopes Monday brings another historic day for Minnesota, as the Senate takes up its version of the gay marriage legislation.

“All of us are going to be listening and praying … that we’ll have equality,” Nelson said.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583