MN Atheists Testifies in Favor of Marriage Equality

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Below is the testimony by August Berkshire, representing Minnesota Atheists, at a Minnesota House Civil Law Committee hearing, in favor of the bill HF 1054, changing state law to allow for marriage equality. March 12, 2013, 6:00 p.m. The bill passed the committee on a 10-7 party line vote – Democrats for, Republicans against. The 9 p.m. “FOX at 9” local TV news on channel 9 reported that the bill’s “supporters ranged from Catholics to atheists.” Earlier that day a companion bill passed a Minnesota Senate committee. The bill now moves to the full legislature, which will vote on it after they have passed a budget.

Photo of testimony in a crowded committee hearing room.

Thank you, Mr. Chair; Committee Members. My name is August Berkshire and I represent Minnesota Atheists, our state’s oldest, largest, and most active atheist organization.

We view this as a matter of separation of church and state. It can be confusing because the same word, “marriage,” is used for both a civil contract and a religious ceremony. But we must keep in mind that these are two separate things.

Today you may hear testimony from some people that their god is in favor of same-sex marriage, and testimony from other people that their god is opposed to same-sex marriage. Fortunately, that’s not a debate you have to resolve. Government laws must have a secular basis.

The best secular arguments in favor of same-sex marriage are the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law and the fact that long-term relationships, gay or straight, help to stabilize society.

In our opinion, there are no secular arguments against same-sex marriage that hold up to scrutiny. Many of these arguments were also used 50 years ago to oppose interracial marriage.

I would like to end on a personal note. My partner, Rachel, and I are heterosexuals and we have been together for 17 years. We are both atheists, and so we will not be getting married in a church, synagogue, or mosque. Instead, we will seek a judge to perform a civil marriage ceremony.

However, we will not get married until it is legal for everyone, because how can we stand up in front of family and friends, some of whom happen to be gay and lesbian, on what is supposed to be the happiest day of our lives, knowing that this happiness is not available to them as well?

So please pass this pro-marriage bill and make civil marriage available to everyone. Thank you.

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