Marilyn Carlson Nelson: Vote NO on Minnesota Anti-Marriage Amendment

We at AllOut Marketing believe that good business means fostering a culture that welcomes and treats people of all types with respect. Because of this, we oppose the upcoming Minnesota amendment vote that constitutionally excludes same-sex couples from marriage. We believe this amendment is bad for business, for families, and for our community.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chairman and former CEO of Carlson, one of the largest privately held companies in the world, recently gave a talk that eloquently captures our reasons for opposing this amendment.

Below is the transcript of the talk that she gave at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis on September 9, 2012. 

Thank you, Bob (White), for all that you are doing with this forum to facilitate open and respectful discussions on issues of social justice in our community. I am not at all surprised that we are discussing the freedom for all to marry here in this sanctuary. This issue belongs here.

Westminster has long guided us in how to integrate faith into our community lives through forums such as this, its Town Halls and countless other acts of spiritual leadership. You are indeed reflecting your “Hope for the World.”

And, I am so very honored that you have opened your doors to me so that I might speak to you this morning from my heart, my experience and my sense of justice on an issue that I do not believe is political. This is about basic rights and human dignity. And it’s an issue that offers us the opportunity to experience the great joy of affirming the most fundamental of our beliefs – “faith, hope and love…these three…but the greatest of these is love.”

As you might imagine, I have been asked, in my role as a business leader, to speak about many topics at venues all around the world. But never in my mind’s eye, could I have imagined the kind of gatherings I’ve spoken at over the past few months. In living rooms and churches throughout our state, caring, thoughtful people are coming together to defend the civil rights of our neighbors, colleagues and loved ones. It feels like something from the days of the underground railroad. Shouldn’t this be behind us?

But then I am reminded of the wise words of former Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, who said, “Freedom does not fall freely like rain. It must be earned by each generation.” And so, in a sense, we are being called up. It’s now our turn to fight to preserve the inalienable rights of us all life, liberty and one of the most cherished, of course, the pursuit of happiness.

Some of you may have seen the op ed piece I wrote in the Star & Tribune earlier this year in opposition to the marriage amendment. Those of you who know me, also know that I am not lacking for issues that I feel passionate about. Yet I have written very few opinion pieces.

I was moved to speak out on this particular issue because I find it to be injurious and counterproductive to all that I treasure and have fought for as a business leader, a Minnesotan, a person of faith and as a mother and grandmother.

Since the editorial appeared and went viral, I’ve had an outpouring of positive responses from Carlson employees and people I’ve never met telling me their own stories, or those of aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues who are in our communities but not completely of our communities because they have been marginalized – denied full acceptance and equal participation due to nothing more than their sexual orientation.

Stories of broken families, of alienation, of suicide. Stories of talented siblings raised together – same schools, same church, same values – one denied acceptance, affirmation and civil rights. I ache reading them – but appreciate the support and enthusiasm for my taking a stand.

The truth is, we will all be remembered for this. This is our collective moment to take a stand. It will be part of our legacy as a community. Business is but one interested party in the outcome of this vote, but certainly one that brings a unique perspective.

This is why I am especially grateful that several business leaders are publicly opposing this amendment such as Greg Page at Cargill, Ken Powell at General Mills, Charlie Zellie of Jefferson Lines, John Taft at RBC, former Medtronic CEO, Bill George and Medtronic Vice Chair, Glen Nelson. And, I am confident several others will be coming forward over the next few months.

You could say that our Minnesota businesses have been speaking out on the issue of gay equality for a while now.

Nearly 300 businesses including the majority of our state’s Fortune 500 companies grant partner health benefits. And, this is not one of those “mandates” we’ve been focused on lately. It’s a choice! But businesses choose to do this because we know that creating a work environment that is welcoming, fair and values all employees is key to building cultures of respect where all employees, all customers and all shareholders are treated fairly.

Enlightened business leaders also know that as the economy begins to turn around, the talent wars will heat up and competition for the best and brightest will intensify. Carlson, like many Minnesota firms, has worked hard to be known as a model of inclusivity in order to draw from the entire talent pool. It is consistent then to want our community, the context in which we do our business to be equally inclusive.

As Minnesotans, we have also taken pride in earning top spots in just about every quality of life category that matters: The most Fortune 500 companies per capita, the highest high school graduation rate, the highest volunteer rate, the most theater seats per capita, the best biking trails and just recently, the best healthcare system.

This amendment puts what you might call the Minnesota brand at risk. It hangs a sign on our door saying “some” are not welcome here for all time! This not only disadvantages us with the gay population but with the young talent we need to continually infuse our state with energy and innovation.

Carnegie Mellon professor, Richard Florida, calls this “The Creative Class” – the segment of the workforce from business, to high tech, to the sciences and the arts that fuel economic vitality. He notes that “Places that succeed in attracting and retaining creative class people prosper; those that fail don’t.”

When this “Creative Class” is sizing up communities to live in, Florida’s research shows that the acceptance of diversity – particularly of gays – is a primary indicator in their evaluation.

By many measures, passage of this amendment would be harmful to our state’s competitiveness. The one thing I am quite sure it would not harm is the institution of marriage.

Amendment supporters would have us believe that by restricting marriage to heterosexuals we are somehow safeguarding the institution from a certain demise. I believe just the opposite is true.

In fact, we are advocating for its widespread adoption. We know if we want more stable communities, we must encourage more long term, committed relationships. Our goal must always be to create loving, caring and inclusive communities. The exclusionary nature of this amendment inhibits that.

In fact, that’s exactly the reason the Secretary of State suggested that the amendment would more accurately reflect the intent of its sponsors if the wording was changed to “limit marriage to opposite sex couples.”

The Supreme Court has since ruled that the original wording will stand but the debate itself helped to elevate awareness among voters that this amendment seeks to codify the prejudices of our times.

It’s worth remembering that our ancestors were wrong about many things. There was that business about the world being flat, and women being incapable of making reasoned political decisions. There were some who felt slavery was a fair exchange because it provided food and shelter to those enslaved. Even some who believed that left handedness was the work of the devil.

Today we know better which is why it would be arrogant to inflict our biases on future generations and shameful to postpone equality for those who are the victims of those biases – particularly given the mounting evidence of modern science that supports the notion that sexual orientation is not a choice but rather determined by the intrauterine hormonal environment and its interaction with the developing brain of the fetus.

As Mayo doctor of psychiatry Michael Bostwick comments, “I think it is fair to say that no reputable scientist these days thinks that homosexuality is a ‘lifestyle choice’.”

Biology aside, there is the looming issue of fairness and justice. I think that the very conservative former U.S. solicitor general Theodore B. Olson said it perfectly in his defense of gay marriage. In this country he said, “We do not tell persons – who have a legitimate claim – to wait until the time is ‘right’ and the populace ‘ready’ to recognize their equality under the law.”

Our own Vice President Mondale and the Honorable Kathleen Blatz have formed Lawyers United for All Families. This is what their letter says, “In its entire history, Minnesota has never preempted the ordinary process of representative government by enshrining one view of family law into its constitution. There is no compelling need to do so now. Regardless of your own opinion on the underlying issue, we should be united in our belief that the proposed constitutional amendment erodes the aspirational ideal that a constitution is foundational to our democracy and it exists to protect the rights of all.”

As a society, we have sent strong signals that derogatory language about race or gender is unacceptable. Yet we are subjected to anti-gay protestors shouting hate speech at the funerals of gay soldiers. And we watch in disbelief as a Christian pastor – on Mother’s Day – recommends from the pulpit that gays be enclosed in fences until they die from their inability to procreate.

This is nothing more than adult bullying and if we have any hope of teaching our children to be respectful, to be tolerant of differences and not to belittle others, we must put an end to it.

And, let’s not forget that parents of gay children also take their cues from a society that marginalizes and discriminates against our gay population. The result is that some of these parents feel guilty. Some feel ashamed. Some are so unable to see their child as just another variation among children that they drive that child away. Some even throw them out.

During a recent tour of The Bridge for Runaway Youth, I was told that 46% of the beds are occupied by GLBT youth who are not welcomed in their own homes. That’s not just a statistic…these are our children who are being discarded and it should give us all pause about the messages our society sends about the value of our gay children.

My husband and I lost a daughter in a car accident when she was just 19 years old. I can’t tell you how deeply it saddens us to think that any parent would risk losing a child – possibly forever – in this manner.

Ultimately, like most of you, I was taught to do unto others, to love my neighbor. No one taught me to love only some neighbors. And, I was also taught that everyone has inalienable rights – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is our nation’s promise to all Americans.

That’s why what we do here in Minnesota will have great historic significance. It’s believed that we have the best shot in the nation of holding back this march of inequality. We can do this! We have the courage and the common sense to lead – not to follow.

And, it matters a great deal. It matters to those being denied equal rights under the law. It matters to our children and grandchildren as experts predict whatever the voters’ judgment is, it is likely to decide the answer on this issue for an entire generation.

And equally important, it matters to all the people of Minnesota. This amendment is not “US”. It does not reflect our values. This is not what we stand for. And because of that, we will vote NO.

No. We will not use our constitution as an instrument of discrimination.

No. We will not disadvantage the competitiveness of our state.

No. We will not entomb future generations with our prejudices.

And, No. We will most definitely not be led down this road of inequality.

For the sake of our quality of life and for the sake of the generations to follow, that road must end at the Minnesota state line.

I am optimistic that we will defeat this amendment. But I am not naïve. All indications are that it will be close. That’s why every individual action by those of us who oppose this amendment is absolutely essential to a positive outcome.

There isn’t one person in this room who, if they so choose, doesn’t have a platform to influence this issue through your financial support as well as through your social network. I urge you to engage with all that you can bring to bear to defeat this amendment.

If you are undecided, I ask that you reflect on the words of the Apostle St. Paul who calls upon us to embrace each other in a spirit of interdependence.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you!”
And the hand cannot say to the feet, “I have no need of you!”
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it:
If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

And so, we must look upon this challenge confronting us today as yet another opportunity for Minnesota to earn the top spot…to go down in history as the first state to push back on this attempt to withhold the benefits, the responsibilities and the joys of marriage from a targeted population.

Let’s not wake up on November 7th to a Minnesota that has condemned our children and grandchildren to another generation of vitriolic debate and enormous expense to overturn an injustice that we should have solved on our watch.

Let’s instead wake up to a Minnesota that has, once again, made us proud to live, to worship and to raise all families here.

Perhaps this…one of my favorite poems… may serve as further inspiration. (Edwin Markham poem)

“He drew a circle and left me out.
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout!
But love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a bigger circle and drew him in.”

Thank you and God bless you.