By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Editor's note: This is the first day of a two-day series that explores the marriage amendment proposal on Tuesday's ballot.
Russ Blaschko of Mankato and Nancy Cramblit of North Mankato are both parents of adult children. Both have been married for decades, are regular church-goers and have never been particularly active politically.
This election — because of the emotionally charged and controversial marriage amendment on Tuesday’s ballot — left each of them feeling a sense of obligation to go beyond simply casting a vote.
“People ask me, ‘Russ, how can you talk on this? How can you speak out on this? How can you meet with The Free Press on this?’” Blaschko said. “You know what? There’s no hate in my heart. There’s no discrimination, there’s no bigotry in my heart. ... And I don’t really think I’m sticking my neck out. I think I’m standing firm on values that I have.”
Blaschko is a banker, a father of three and grandfather of one, and an active member of Holy Rosary Catholic Church. He strongly supports the amendment that would strengthen the state’s existing law restricting marriage to heterosexual couples by putting it into the Minnesota constitution.
Cramblit is a retired special education teacher and a mother of three. She attends the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mankato and opposes the amendment, saying it would take Minnesota backward in what she believes is an inevitable recognition that gay Americans should have the right to marry.
“My faith is really important to me, and I guess that’s what really drives me to do things I’m not comfortable with — like agree to get up and talk to the (North Mankato City) Council or agree to say yes to you coming to interview me ... . What I really want to say is ‘Go to the polls with love in your hearts instead of fear. And treat your neighbors as you would want to be treated.’”
Cramblit looks at the attitudes of younger Americans and has no doubt that gay marriage will be legal and accepted someday. Tuesday’s vote is about whether older Minnesotans are going to deliver one more blow to gay residents of the state and leave younger Minnesotans with a more arduous task in reversing the amendment in the future.
“For the young people in their 20s and early 30s, it’s really not much of an issue to them — it’s like: ‘Well, of course they should be able to get married and be able to be recognized by society,’” Cramblit said. “... To me, it’s kind of my generation that’s stuck. And we need to get around it and recognize that this something we need to do to make it a better world for our kids and our grandchildren.”
Blaschko also talks about the next generation when he summarizes his decision to organized grass-roots support for the amendment. Guaranteeing that the traditional definition of marriage is maintained is crucial because it ensures that the central focus of marriage will continue to be the healthy development of children.
“I feel that it’s a building block of our society that we need to keep in place,” he said. “It’s too critical to play with, it’s too critical to experiment with. ... If marriage is redefined, it’s going to change society.”
Not every heterosexual marriage will produce children, but children are central to government’s role in certifying and recognizing a marriage, Blaschko said. Marriage ties a man to his wife in a legal way that increases the chance that any child produced will have both a father and a mother.
“What makes marriage is love and commitment and the ability to create children,” he said. “The government is entering into it because the ability to reproduce brings with it the responsibility to educate and protect that child. ... If this amendment doesn’t pass, marriage becomes about adults. It becomes about adult desires and wants.”
History and biology
But allowing gay marriage would in no way undermine anyone’s heterosexual marriage, Cramblit said. Heterosexual marriage will continue unchanged regardless of whether the amendment passes. The point of the amendment is to make it harder for same-sex couples to ever acquire an equal right to marry.
Cramblit suggests looking at attitudes a generation ago, when many states still prohibited white Americans from marrying someone of another race. Even in Minnesota, members of some Christian denominations were outraged by the idea of one of their members marrying a Catholic.
Raised as a Methodist in a small town, Cramblit said her own grandparents shared that attitude — to the point that they wouldn’t attend their daughter’s wedding.
“My aunt told me that my mom and dad were the only people in her family who went to her wedding because she was marrying a Catholic,” she said.
Mixed marriage is widely accepted now, and bans on marriage between races disappeared in the 1960s.
“And marriage has continued with its ups and downs in spite of those different things happening,” Cramblit said. “Gay marriage won’t hurt it any more than interracial marriage or interfaith marriage has changed marriage.”
Blaschko, despite his strong faith, doesn’t mention God or cite any Bible verses in a nearly hour-long interview. He said he’s trying to approach the debate through reason and logic.
Part of his conviction that marriage needs to be reserved for opposite-sex couples stems from basic biology.
“Every person has within them certain organ systems that are whole and complete,” he said. “The cardiovascular system is whole and complete. The muscle and skeletal system is whole and complete.”
“But the sexual reproduction system is not complete,” Blaschko said. “The sexual reproduction system needs another complementary person to become complete. To me it’s just written in our bodies.”
Speaking of children
Cramblit first began thinking more deeply about gay rights when she and her husband began teaching a human sexuality program to teenagers through their church. A discussion of sexual orientation was part of the curriculum.
“These were seventh- to 10th-graders and seeing how interested they were in hearing the stories, we would have a panel come in from MSU and talk to the kids and share their stories — a lot of them very painful because of the abuse that gay people and young people often face in school and in their community,” she said.
One of the lessons was that gay people don’t have a choice about their orientation any more than that they have a choice of eye color. And the students discovered that the love and commitment shared by a same-sex couple appeared to be equivalent to that of an opposite-sex couple.
“One of them commented on that,” Cramblit said. “‘The love looks the same.’”
Blaschko said his faith teaches that homosexuality is innate, not chosen; that homosexuals must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity; and that they shouldn’t be subject to unjust discrimination.
But marriage is an exception.
“They can choose to have whatever relationships they want,” he said. “But a marriage is a man and a woman and the ability to have children.”
When government gets involved, through the issuing of a license, it has little interest in the level of love between two people, Blaschko said.
“When I went to the courthouse and applied for my marriage license, they didn’t say, ‘Well, Russ, on a scale of one to 10, how much in love are you with her? Debbie, on a scale of one to 10, how much are you in love with him? OK, you both gave a good number, we’re going to marry you.’ They didn’t say that. They didn’t care about that.”
It’s all about promoting family stability in a relationship that might produce children, he said.
“They just said, ‘Hey, you want to get married, we know what you’re going to do, we know what might come out of that. We’re going to hold you responsible for that. Here’s your marriage license.’”
While Cramblit doesn’t see how allowing gay marriage could do anything to undermine heterosexual marriage, she sees real harm in a statewide vote that tells gay couples that their love and commitment to each other is less worthy. It would also be wrong to tell an infertile opposite-sex couple that their relationship isn’t worthy of legal recognition.
“I definitely think that marriage is something more than just a means of procreation and raising children,” she said. “... I have a brother and sister-in-law who are married and not with children. I look at the love between them, the way they support each other as they get older, the companionship that they have between the two of them. That’s not any less legitimate than the marriage that Denny and I have.”
What lies ahead
Gay marriage will be illegal in Minnesota on Wednesday, regardless of the vote count on Tuesday. What will be decided is if it’s banned only by existing state law or if it’s also prohibited in the state government’s foundational document.
The state law prohibiting gay marriage could be undone quickly by the courts or by a future Legislature, Blaschko warns. If the amendment passes, he said he will be relieved but won’t be loudly cheering.
“I’m internally going to feel so good that my grandchild will have a chance to get the values that I think he should get,” he said. “But on the other hand, 50 percent of the people don’t agree with this. We’ve got to reach out to those 50 percent. We have to reach an understanding, and the work just starts.”
If the amendment is rejected in Minnesota, it will be a first. In 31 states where similar measures went for a statewide vote, voters favored restricting gay marriage every time.
Cramblit has a warning and a prediction, too, if the amendment passes.
With a constitutional prohibition against gay marriage, Minnesota will get a rerun of the statewide argument of this summer and fall, she said. It’s only a question of when because younger generations simply don’t support prohibiting gay marriage.
“Our kids will have to fix it,” she said. “And how many millions of dollars have we already spent on this issue in Minnesota? And how many millions more will they have to spend? And how could that money be better used? That’s one of the reasons why I want to prevent it from getting put in the constitution now.”