03/27/2012 05:42 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Black Pants Affair: Fighting the Minnesota Marriage Amendment in New York City

Esta Stecher had about 50 guests over Monday night at her Park Avenue apartment in New York City for a fundraiser on behalf of Minnesotans United for All Families. That's the broad coalition of 230 organizations and leaders fighting this fall's marriage amendment in Minnesota. Since last November I've been blogging one reason a day to vote "no," and this would be fodder for my Tuesday post.

I was in the neighborhood, sort of, visiting from Minneapolis to see my daughter and the boyfriend. She's lived in New York since college and knows all the ropes. She said she'd go with me, but first I had to buy a pair of black dress pants for the occasion.

"Why black pants?" I said. "I have a pair of dark green ones in my suitcase."

"Dad, you're in New York," she hollered at me. "No one wears green pants in New York."

I caved and found a pair of $70 pants marked down to $16 at T.J.Maxx on First Avenue. They charge tax on clothes in New York, which is another reason to live in Minnesota.

The elevator dropped us off right inside the apartment. There's a staircase that takes you up to the second floor, which made the place even bigger than Buffy and Jody's apartment on Family Affair.

Esta greeted us with grace and zero pretention. Not surprisingly, she has strong Minnesota roots. I've met her cousin a few times.

"She's one of the most successful tax lawyers you'll ever meet," someone said to me about Esta.

"That's true," I said.

My pal Amy from Minneapolis, who is like a sister to me and who works for Minnesotans United, was there. She and I had consulted before the trip about what to wear to an event like this.

"Nice pants," I said, when I saw her black slacks.

"Thanks," she said.

I looked around and saw that except for one guy, all the men were wearing black suits. The caterers passing out hors d'ouevres wore black. A lot of these people were tall, too. They must have had Midwestern roots. You don't normally see that many tall people in New York.

"Why do I feel like I just walked into an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story?" I said to my daughter.

"Because you're a crazy old man," she said.

A lawyer named Mari was there with her husband. He was tall, there by way of Chicago, but she was even shorter than I. Mari was originally from Anoka, which I said is famous for being Garrison Keillor's hometown.

"It's also Gretchen Carlson's hometown," she said of the former Miss America. "She was an inspiration to all short people."

The executive director of the Liberty Education Forum, Greg Angelo, was there, too. His nonprofit group in Washington is for "individual liberty, freedom, and fairness for all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation." He and I talked a bit about Minnesota politics, and he's optimistic that even religious conservatives in Michele Bachmann's district will be open to accepting gay marriage.

Dear God, I thought. I hope he's right.

The evening's hostess, Esta, was the first to speak and said that the Minnesota with an anti-marriage amendment on the ballot is not the Minnesota she grew up in, "the Minnesota of Hubert Humphrey and Gene McCarthy."

Esta introduced Richard Carlbom, campaign manager of Minnesotans United. I've heard him speak before, and he's as passionate and smart an organizer as you'll hear. Those who support the Minnesota Marriage Amendment, Richard told the group, "are not bigots. They don't hate gay people."

He said the task at hand is to find 1.4 million Minnesota voters who understand that marriage matters not just for straight people but for gay people. "For Justin and me," he said, pointing to his fiancé on the other side of Esta's living room, "there's nothing about marriage we want to change. We see marriage as saying something to our friends and families about our relationship that no other word describes."

One of the brightest writers I've read in the same-sex marriage debate, Evan Wolfson, spoke next, explaining that Minnesota can change the entire dynamic with a vote against the amendment. He's an East Coast guy who left no doubt that the entire country will be watching the results this November in our state.

The last speaker was the comedienne Lizz Winstead. A Twin Cities native, she's one of the creators of The Daily Show, and she mentioned that her brother Gene, the mayor of Bloomington, a Twin Cities suburb, is among Republicans who oppose the marriage amendment.

Winstead said she had a theory about getting straight people to vote to legalize same-sex marriage. She said that the key is to figure out what straight guys like about gay marriage.
"Hot lesbians," she said. "If gay marriage were legalized, hot lesbians would move in next door. They'd have a pool. It'd be in the Constitution. The Straight Guy Wish-Fulfillment Initiative."

We were heading out when I saw four young people standing around even more awkwardly than I. They were about my height, and I felt a kinship. One turned out to be Esta's daughter, who said it would be OK if I went upstairs and looked around.

"Dad," my daughter hissed.

Just then one of the caterers brought her friend Rony a fancy, foil doggie bag.

"Thanks," I said. "I was afraid I would be the person most out of place here. It wasn't until this afternoon that I bought these black pants."

"Why does he have to wear black pants?" Rory asked my daughter.

When we got back to her apartment, I told my daughter that she was right about the black pants. I said I'd considered returning them today to T.J.Maxx, but I'd decided to hang onto them in case I'm ever back in New York.

"I'm giving them money," she said. "I want to give them a hundred dollars."

That was worth a cheap pair of pants, I thought.

This piece is adapted and cross-posted from one that appeared at 365 Pretty Good Reasons.