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Wheelock Whitney

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Why This Minnesota Republican Rejects the Marriage Amendment

Posted: 10/26/11 01:52 PM ET

Minnesotans will be voting in the fall of 2012 on whether to ban marriage for same-sex couples in our state Constitution. This issue should not have been thrust upon us. But now that it has been, we have an opportunity to transform a shameful referendum on the lives and legal protections of our fellow citizens into a historic victory for families and respect for human dignity. I will be voting "no" -- against the amendment -- and I urge my friends and all Minnesota voters to do the same.

First of all, I oppose this marriage amendment as a Minnesotan. I have worked most of my 85 years to make this state a place where anyone who works hard and obeys the law can succeed. Individual merit does not depend on a person's race, religion, sex, or the gender of the person he or she loves and raises a family with. We Minnesotans have the chance to pass on a legacy worthy of our history. It is time we declare definitively that gay men and lesbians are a treasured part of our community. We can do that by voting "no" on the marriage amendment.

I am a lifelong Republican; the roots of my political life go back to 1940, when I was in the ninth grade at St. Cloud Junior High School. At a mock convention, I nominated Wendell Willkie for president against FDR. I have been a delegate to Republican conventions, from county conventions to the national convention. I was the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in 1964 against Eugene McCarthy -- and for governor in 1982 against Rudy Perpich. I lost both of those elections, but I've never lost my desire for a strong national defense, a limit to spending, less government regulation, and the promotion of individual liberty.

Personal moral values and religious beliefs are appropriately taught in families and houses of worship. But in a free society we must allow others to live according to the dictates of their own consciences. There is nothing in my Republican value system that supports marriage bans in our Constitution, so I also oppose this amendment as a lifelong Republican.

I oppose the amendment as a businessperson. A key to fostering a strong economic climate is attracting and retaining the best talent. Period. Gay men and lesbians are among the most talented people out there. Needless and hurtful laws like the proposed marriage amendment drive them away. They also drive away innovative people of any sexual orientation who simply want to live in a place that respects and celebrates the diversity of life.

As a married man, I oppose this marriage amendment. My first marriage of almost 40 years ended with my wife's death from lung cancer. I am now married to the former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Kathleen Blatz. Marriage is deeply important to me. I have lived long enough and have been married long enough to know that it is fulfilling, but not easy. Many things can undermine a marriage. But my happiness has never depended on depriving others of their happiness. My marriage has never needed the exclusion of others from marriage. I am not threatened by seeing others find love and celebrate it.

Finally, I have to add that I oppose this marriage amendment as a father and grandfather. One of my sons is gay, as is one of my grandchildren. I love them dearly. I want them to find love and peace in their lives, to have someone they can count on, and to be protected by the law. Far from defending families, this marriage amendment is an attack on my family. It is an attack on thousands of families across this state. I won't sit by and just let it happen.

So I oppose this amendment as a Minnesotan, as a Republican, as a businessperson, as a married man, and as a father and grandfather. The bad news is that we are going to have to spend the next year fighting a useless and hurtful constitutional amendment. The good news is that we have the chance to become the first state in the country to vote down such a proposal.

We need do nothing heroic to defeat the amendment. We need not change our fundamental beliefs or values. We need only be the best version of ourselves -- a people who don't slam the door on others, but instead bring them in from the cold.

Wheelock Whitney is a lifelong Minnesotan. A businessman, philanthropist, professional sports owner and executive, educator and politician, he was the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1964 and governor in 1982. He is a member of the Steering Committee of Minnesotans United for all Families.