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Late last year, the people of Minnesota turned down a constitutional amendment limiting the freedom to marry, and thanks in part to the amendment’s opponents, a new legislative majority was elected. Now, this new majority in the Minnesota Legislature has the ability to repeal an antiquated state law and ensure that all Minnesotans finally have the freedom to marry the person they love.

As the only openly gay mayor in Minnesota – and having been born and raised in the town I represent – marriage is something that is important for me as a friend, a leader, and a Minnesotan.

Growing up in Greater Minnesota, in my small rural town and attending our local Lutheran Church, I learned the value of commitment and family. Although I am not currently in a relationship, I was for some time. Michael and I had a great many plans for the one day that we would have the freedom to get married in the state we call home.

We planned on getting married, raising a family, and living our lives together. He worked for Best Buy as a corporate buyer, and I worked as a staffer at the Minnesota Legislature during sessions as well as for Thomson West teaching high school students. He enjoyed sports and music, and I enjoyed politics and movies, and we both enjoyed good food and humor.

Unfortunately, in 2006, Michael returned home from a business trip and passed away a few short months after his 30th birthday from meningitis. Thanks to Michael’s upbringing in a small rural town as well – with those same shared values of love, commitment and family – his family and I were able to make the arrangements together that respected his wishes.

Sadly, this is not true for many same sex couples throughout Minnesota who, without equality under the law, end up facing the nightmare of trying to honor their loved ones’ wishes on top of the tragedy of losing them. And unfortunately this is just one example where our law stands in the way of love. Not everyone is fortunate to have a family like Michael’s, and that’s one of many reasons why marriage equality is so very important.

My friends, family and neighbors have all come a long way in their recognition that same-sex couples and LGBT Minnesotans like me have the same values, hopes, and aspirations as all other Minnesotans. We are your neighbors, your co-workers and friends, your brothers and sisters, and we believe in families just like you do. These are values shared across Minnesota from the metro to the most rural areas of Greater Minnesota.

Marriage is a commitment, an aspiration, a bundle of hopes and disappointments. Marriage is full of lessons that amplify our personal, social and spiritual growth and fulfillment. There isn’t a need for a separate set of rules. Gays and lesbians don’t need a separate, second-class status. Minnesotans simply need to let committed same-sex couples share the same rules, same responsibilities, and same respect everyone else enjoys.

Everyone instantly understands when a couple says, “We’re married,” that the statement is more than just legal rights. It’s about commitment, dedication, sacrifice and devotion. That’s what makes marriage special. Marriage says, “We’re family.” It’s the ultimate expression of love, commitment and responsibility.

This session, our legislators have the chance to correct the law in Minnesota to ensure equal protection for everyone who’s made the ultimate commitment of love and family. Now is the time for Minnesota to recognize that we all share the same values of love and commitment when it comes to marriage. It’s the right thing to do for our families, our communities and our state, and the time has come for equal protection under the law.

And so I urge our Greater Minnesota legislators to stand on the side of equality, to stand on the side of love, to stand on the side of families, and to stand on the right side of history by supporting the freedom to marry.

Aaron Lee Wittnebel, Mayor

Lake Park, MN