Queerty Exclusive

INTERVIEW: Scott Dibble Says Anti-Gay Republicans Are Helping Create Marriage Equality

Last November, a constitutional ban on gay marriage was on the ballot in Minnesota. It was struck down by voters. Just six months later, Minnesota lawmakers passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.

On the eve of the law taking effect August 1, Queerty chatted with State Senator Scott Dibble, who helped lead the charge for marriage equality during the 2013 legislative session.

Gay marriage goes into effect in MN in just a few days. How are people preparing for that?

There’s going to be a big party and fundraiser gathering the night before, July 31. It will be a community celebration. And then at midnight on August 1, both the mayor of Minneapolis at the Minneapolis City Hall and the mayor of St. Paul at the St. Paul City Hall are having a large gathering. They’re making themselves available to marry couples. A number of judges will also be on hand to assist. It’s going to be a real big coming together. A number of churches are also doing marriages. So people are really getting ready.

In November 2012, a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was on the ballot. Six months later, the MN State Legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.

It is a fairly dramatic story, and of course very, very encouraging about what’s possible in terms of creating a positive movement towards greater opportunity and acceptance, and expanding our democracy. But if you follow the arc of the story from the beginning to now, it’s really more of an arc than a sharp turn that occurs.

You really have to trace is back a number of years to the Bachmann days. You know, Michele Bachmann and her need to create a lot of attention for herself. She came to the state Senate and [opposing same-sex marriage] was her first big banner issue. She really harked on it for a while. But even when she was at her zenith, when she was at her peak, she had relatively little to show for her efforts. She was a solo operator and she really spoke to a declining base even within her own party, and the stridency and the meanness with which she carried out her campaigns really put Minnesotans off.

Do you think Bachmann’s mind can ever be changed on this issue?

No, I do not think her mind can be changed. I wouldn’t waste my breath even trying.

In a way, people like her seem to be helping the other side advance because they’re creating such a message of hatred and intolerance that’s forcing people who may be on the fence about it to think more deeply about the issue.

I shrink away from the word hatred because it’s so strong. And I recognize that a lot of people are good people, and they need time with the subject matter. But, yes, absolutely. They do us a huge favor by pushing the issue. Because then it forces the conversation out into the open, and we can say: ‘Okay. Let’s talk about this. What is the affect on kids? What is the affect on our shared life together as a community? How are families made stronger? What is the nature of love and commitment? And what about this whole idea that freedom is guaranteed in our constitution?’ And they do us a huge favor by not being able to support their position. Because really their position is not logical. Their logic is based on animus towards gay people and the idea that gay people are bad.

Sen. Dibble outside the Minnesota State Capitol shortly after the marriage bill was passed.

It seems for some opponents of marriage equality, it’s less about the actual issue and more about winning a debate.

I think for some there’s a utility to it, and that’s around political dominance and winning elections for Republican candidates. And that has shown to have no utility at all. So you see now a lot of the Republicans are saying: “We must drop this. This is not helping. We’re not gaining. We’re losing.” They’ve figured out that making cynical use of this issue just isn’t fair. So, I think, absolutely, it is about winning the argument and winning in the larger game of politics. And this has come up a loser for them.

Do you think eventually they’ll just drop the issue?

Really what I’ve sensed more recently is the base of the Republican party isn’t going to move. They’re going to remain homophobic for the foreseeable future. It’s either going to drive them into further irrelevancy, or what’s going to happen is the issue will be resolved for them by the Democrats. And I think that’s what they’re praying for. That the issue will be solved by Democrats and then everyone can pretend they were always for it and we can move on.

Sen. Branden Peterson was the only Republican to co-sponsor the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota. Were you surprised by his support?

I was pretty surprised because Branden Petersen is very conservative. He’s no liberal. But he’s a conservative of a different stripe. I’m really glad we had a “bi-partisan” vote, even if that only amounted to one Republican in the Senate.

We actually had five, possibly six, additional Republican senators who were queued up to vote “yes” for the marriage bill, and in those last few days, so much pressure was brought to bear by the right wing that they freaked out and, Monday when we took the vote, they flaked off and voted “no.” Contrary to their own core values and their own principles.

Gov. Mark Dayton signing the bill into law on May 14, 2013.

Do you think that those people will look back in 10 or 20 years on their decision to vote “no” and feel regret or embarrassment?

If they have a shred of humanity, they will. I have no way of knowing if they’re fully self-interested, or if they know they have indelibly inscribed in history that “no” vote. They will forever know they are the wrong side of history. To deny people the ability to form strong, healthy, happy families, that’s for them to live with, and hopefully they can sleep at night and look at themselves in the mirror. But, if it were me, there’s no way I could live with myself if I had cast a vote like that.