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Gay marriage amidst national debate on same sex unions
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Siddiqi Ray and Elizabeth McElhinney are thrilled to have a marriage license. (MPR Photo/Lorna Benson)
This week the debate over gay marriage intensified when President Bush announced he would support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. The president is responding to a ruling in Massachusetts legalizing gay marriage, followed by San Francisco's decision to grant marriage licenses to gay couples. The issue is also brewing in at least 35 legislatures, including Minnesota. Critics of gay marriage are expected to introduce a bill soon that would place a consitutional ammendment on the state's 2004 ballot banning same sex marriages. The backlash is particularly surprising to one Minnesota couple who recently married in San Francisco.

MinneapolisMinn. — Siddiqi Ray and Liz McElhinney were planning a commitment ceremony this summer in Minnesota. But then Ray's mother called her from San Francisco barely able to contain her excitement.

"And she was like, 'Oh my God, did you hear about what's happening in San Francisco? They're marrying gay people at the City Hall. You've got to come!' And, my initial response was, like, 'What?'"

Ray was skeptical at first because she didn't know if the marriage license would be valid. When she told her partner what was happening in San Francisco, McElhinney didn't know what to think either.

"I had to sit down and kind of look at her and go, 'What does marriage mean?' Because it's something I never thought of before because it was not anything that I could ever have. So I was like, 'Well let's talk about it for a little bit," McElhinney said.

The couple quickly decided that this was a rare window of opportunity. They rushed out to a Rag Stock store to buy wedding clothes. Ray bought a $4 crimson dress and McElhinney purchased a black suit. Two hours later they were on a flight to San Francisco. When they arrived, they got in a long line that snaked outside of City Hall. Ray said it was like being on an episode of the television show Survivor, only for gay people.

I had to sit down and kind of look at her and go, 'What does marriage mean?' Because it's something I never thought of before because it was not anything that I could ever have. So I was like, 'Well let's talk about it for a little bit.'
- Elizabeth McElhinney

"Because it was people forming alliances and trying to get ahead in line and there was this underlying feeling of only some of us are going to get this privilege and we want it now. We're so desperate for it. There's this longing, this hunger to have this recognition legally of our love for each other," Ray says.

Ray and McElhinney exchanged their vows, agreeing to be spouses for life. They received a marriage certificate although they're not sure if it holds much legal weight. When they got home they decided to have a lawyer draw up a separate partnership agreement and a will, just in case.

Ray is thrilled to be married, but the growing political backlash is starting to get to her - particularly President Bush's support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

"I've been thinking how sad I feel that who I am and what I choose in my life is in question by the government and that the government could say who you love is not right. It's wrong. And you can't do it, because that's essentially the message," Ray said.

Some of their friends have suggested that, perhaps, the timing isn't right for gay marriage in America. McElhinney has been thinking about that and has decided the timing would never be perfect.

"So if it's got to shock the system then now or never. It's like if it goes back into a backlash, then fine; it'll come back stronger some day later," McElhinney said.

Even though they're already married, McElhinney and Ray have decided to go ahead with their commitment ceremony in Minnesota this summer. Ray said if society decides not to accept gay marriage, she at least wants her family to bless her union.

"Even my Republican grandmother that has a signed picture of Ronald Reagan in her kitchen has overcome her fear and judgment to realize how much she loves me and supports me. So even she's coming, but I think it's a stretch for her," Ray said.

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