As a boy my parents would load my two older brothers and I into our family’s big, dusty conversion van and huff it northbound, toward Duluth or Grand Marais or the Boundary Waters. We would cliff jump in Voyageur National Park and make pitiful attempts at fishing everywhere we could. We accidentally swam with snapping turtles, we pedaled down the State Park bike trails and my deep love for biology took root sometime in those early years, little fingers digging in creeks and mud pits for the creatures hidden there. You find quickly, traveling elsewhere in the U.S., that not everyone grows up with Gooseberry Falls, bonfires, eagles, moose, or mallards. We have eleven thousand lakes at our choosing and usually, our neighbors are good enough to share what they have. Our state is a cathedral to life in which we have the privilege of fellowship.
My mother was a social worker and my father a reverend; always my brothers and I had a good vantage on what struggle and resilience look like in the north country. People earn it, in Minnesota, I’ve long thought. They work hard and don’t usually ask for more than their day deserved. Our relationship with the earth here shapes our temperament. We learn to harden ourselves in the seasons we need to, the soil in our skins freeze and our chests frost over. But we always emerge and our welcome to the spring is all the warmer; our hands till the earth, we tromp through our woods and dive into those waiting lakes. We enter the cathedral, our neighbors and family in toe, and give thanks for beautiful life.
It is with the embrace of such life in mind that I think about the coming elections. I know politics, like nothing else, threatens to pollute anything it touches. And to be sure, the natural majesty of this state dwarfs the pitiful bickering of our partisan selves. But on the question of how we try to regulate life and relationship, to promote the love of some and decry the love of others, our natural heritage, I think, has something to say. We Minnesotans are a people that prioritized life before many of our neighbors in the Union. We recognize that our rivers and forests grow our sons and embolden our daughters, the stuff of the earth becomes the stuff of our bodies and so we kept impurities from the soil and poison from the air. We defended natural bounty with our laws and community with our customs. Our pride reflects in the health of our State; our metropolis is known for its art and its inclusion; we harbor refugees like few places in the world can boast; it seems we try, at least, to walk through the narratives of our myriad scriptures and adopt the practices of our most storied leaders. We are a place for life. We should be a place for all, to live and love as they feel they need, if a better community is what they pursue.
A good argument can be made for the tradition of marriage being something, and not something else. But I hope, going toward November, that at the very least we all pause to think about the life in this place, what it’s blessed us with and what it represents. It screams for us to be in community, to look skyward, across the lake with a beer in your hand and the grill behind you, and be thankful for whoever sits looking with you. I don’t think it’s asking us to part and parse the love had between those people, to think that the love of a man for his wife is any more than the love of a man for his husband. I think the land and water celebrate that love has come together at all, to witness this tremendous place. I’ve shared those lakeside beers with my gay friends, and I can tell you, these people are already a part of a Minnesotan tradition that says “revere life”. This November, let’s not vote against ourselves, let’s not vote against them. Vote NO on the 2012 marriage amendment.