Friday, May 10, 2013

When night ends and the new day begins ...

It's not clear exactly how I came to be watching yesterday afternoon's pre-vote debate on Minnesota House File 1054 (marriage equality). I came home for lunch and planned to go back to the office, then pulled up streaming coverage to watch for a few minutes while eating my sandwhich --- a couple of hours passed, debate was done and lawmakers had passed the bill 75-59.

In case you missed it, four Republicans joined in to make this a modestly bipartisan effort. Two Democrats from conservative districts voted "no." The Senate will take up the bill early next week. Passage there is not guaranteed, but backers are hopeful.

This is an amazing turn-around. Last May, Minnesota lawmakers --- then dominated by Republicans --- passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The amendment, however, was defeated by voters during November --- despite best efforts of the Roman Catholic heirarchy and others --- and the DFL regained legislative control.

The debate was so civil Thursday that practically every speaker spent quite a bit of time commenting on just how civil it was --- kind of time-consuming. Several Republicans, including Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), seemed almost apologetic about voting against the bill. Rep. Tony Albright (R-Prior Lake) practically begged his colleagues to "show courage" and vote against it.

Consider how dramatic a shift that is. Truly courageous Minnesota lawmakers have battled for years in the Minnesota Legislature for LGBT rights. Now, "courage" has been conscripted by those who oppose them. .

Stunningly eloquent Minnesota DFL Representative Steve Simon, of Hopkins, remains one of my heroes in the Minnesota House. His question from constitutional debate two years ago still resonates:

"How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God acutally wants them around?"

He was similarly eloquent. but more emotional, on Tuesday as he fought back tears while telling a version of a very old parable, based the Talmud, central text of Rabbinic Judaism: A rabbi asks his students, what is the precise moment when the night ends and a new day begins?

The parable concludes: “The moment when night ends and a new day begins is the moment when you look into the face of a stranger and see the face of your brother,” Simon said. “Until that moment, no matter what time it is, it’s still night. But at that moment, that’s when the new day begins."

You can listen to Simon's remarks Thursday in the YouTube clip at the top of this post; and to his remarks during May of 2011, in the clip below.

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