Just when it seems that Republicans with integrity have become extinct, out of nowhere — or rather, out of Andover, Minnesota — comes Branden Petersen.
Petersen is a Minnesota state Senator who is prepared to become the nation’s first GOP co-sponsor of legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. And he’s doing it for the best of reasons. As he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
“At this point, I am concerned about doing the right thing. I have a certain amount of peace about that, and I will let the chips fall where they may.”
The senator, married with two young children, is familiar with the divisiveness of the issue. His father-in-law has been in a same-sex relationship for almost 20 years; the situation split the family the way it has split communities. Nevertheless, Petersen sees the handwriting on the wall. He says:
“It’s only a matter of time before same-sex marriage is legal. I thought it was important to engage the issue now, and when we do it, do it right, and that there’s some perspective from the people I represent in that.”
The political risks are significant. Petersen was in a Republican majority who put a constitutional amendment on Minnesota’s ballot last fall that would ban same-sex marriage. To its credit, the state was the first in the nation to defeat such a measure, but the voters in Senator Petersen’s district narrowly approved it. Still, he thinks his constituents aren’t one-issue voters and will back him for his conservative position on other matters. If not, well, that’s when the chips can fall where they may, perhaps costing him his seat. Of that possibility he says:
“If push came to shove and that’s the way it had to be, then I am fine with that.”
Part of the role that Petersen plays has been to raise concerns about the bill and insist that those be addressed. He wants protections for religious leaders who refuse to wed same-sex couples, and he wants financial guarantees for the well-being of children whose same-sex parents divorce.
He’ll get no argument from the other side of the aisle. Democrats are thrilled that Petersen has joined their effort. The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, said:
“Everything he has articulated, I see no problem with. At all. …I think it also allows a lot of space for other legislators to consider the same.”
Petersen, too, thinks there are other Republican legislators who would like to find a way to support same-sex marriage. The bill is not a done deal and passage would require the support of some of them. Democrats hold a slim majority in the legislature, but not all of them are on board in favor of the proposed act, some citing objections because of their religious beliefs. The senator consulted both his friends and his pastor before taking a public stance but, now that he has, he awaits the outcome with serenity.
For my money, the national GOP would do well to take a good look at this twenty-seven-year-old lawmaker, when and if they ever get around to rebuilding their party. His willingness to adapt and compromise indicate he has a bright future–whether his party does or not.