COLUMN: Love, like iron, stands up to pressure and time

This is my Sunday column for the Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this piece aired last week on KAXE’s “Between You and Me.” You may access the audio version here.

Love, like iron, stands up to pressure and time
By Aaron J. Brown

The story of the Iron Range is a story of geology. Pressure and time bring change. The iron ore rose near the earth’s surface. Lakes formed. People poured over the land, changed the land and were changed by the land. Sometimes though, even in geology, brief important events occur. That’s when it’s up to us.

I’ve spent my whole life on the Iron Range. I don’t remember when I understood the real meaning of the word “gay,” but I do know that I heard the word hundreds of times before I understood it. On the Range “gay” was always bad. It was always an insult.

Still, I heard faint whispers echoes of family and friends who might be, just possibly could be gay for real. We did not know or dare to ask. We do not discuss such personal things, even if these loved ones held our families and lives together in hard times.

In 1998, when I was 18, I found myself sitting at a table talking politics with strangers. We were marking ballots and one of the topics was gay marriage.

By then I knew what “gay” really meant, and I had even read about the idea of gay people in committed relationships having legal rights. I was, however, very uncomfortable with all this. I had read somewhere that marriage was a social institution to bring children into this world, and that seemed consistent with what I saw in my large family. So I marked my ballot against gay marriage.

Across the table sat a woman with dark, short hair, small round glasses and a voice somehow gruff and kind at the same time.

“I don’t like your vote on that one.”

I was actually baffled why anyone would have that opinion. “How come?” I asked.

She told me that she was in a committed relationship with her partner, that they loved each other and had been married in a ceremony, even if the state wouldn’t recognize that marriage.

“Why can’t our love be treated the same as anyone else’s?”

I muttered something about family and children. She nodded and said she respected my opinion, but that she and her spouse didn’t want anything special, just fairness.

That woman was Lorrie Janatopoulos and she would become a friend over the years to come. She was then and remains a person who knows the region’s past struggles and seeks to help new generations overcome them in her work. This summer she ran for state representative in the heart of the Iron Range, Tom Rukavina’s old district, and battled to a close second place in the primary. She celebrated yet another anniversary with her wife Sharon, who is also a well established professional in the area. And I can’t think of any good reason at all to tell them they shouldn’t have the same rights as my wife and I.

I understand the desire by many to practice the values of their religion. If a religion considers certain behaviors to be moral or immoral, then members of that religion are rightly granted wide rights to practice those values. These freedoms are limited only when one person’s freedoms infringe on the rights of another.

The current effort to amend the constitution to limit marriage is just such a case.

Why must we put something in the constitution that would denigrate, insult and cause actual harm to lawful citizens who love each other? I often hear arguments related to fear, intolerance and a desire to apply one’s own deeply held and sacred religious beliefs to others. Often pro-amendment arguments are based on a heartfelt desire to stabilize families. These arguments are, however, misguided.

The problems facing our families are much deeper than the demographic profile of the one special person we love. That love is found in homes displaying both “Vote Yes” and “Vote No” signs. No, the problem is not the kind of love; the problem is the quantity. Families need more love, not less.

Much has changed in the geological blink of the past 100 years on the Iron Range. We’ve made progress in a place where once Finns were blacklisted, Catholics were discriminated against, and women could not work without harassment.

This is our geological moment. Let us release the pressure of pain and injustice weighing down a small number of our family, friends and neighbors so that we may grow more love, instead of less.

The vote is simple. Though my wife and I are voting No on the marriage amendment, I certainly respect your opinion. You should vote the way you believe is right. I can only ask what a friend once asked me. What if your love, your rights and your family were on the ballot and everyone else got to vote on whether or not they were real?

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes MinnesotaBrown and hosts 91.7 KAXE’s Great Northern Radio Show on public stations. The rebroadcast of the Eveleth show will air today at 11 a.m.

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