Minnesota natives Andy and Nick, together 14 years, speak out against marriage amendment

Last winter, while vacationing in Miami Beach, Andy Willenbring surprised his partner Nick Pautze with a semi-impromptu surprise: He had taken all of the steps necessary to file for a domestic partnership. After nearly fourteen years together, Andy wanted to formally declare his commitment to Nick. That week, the couple went to the courthouse in Miami, where same-sex couples are allowed to join together in domestic partnership, sat in a waiting room, filled out the necessary legal paperwork, and for the first time gained legal status as a couple. Domestic partnerships provide some - but not all - of the protections and responsibilities that marriage provides.

The domestic partnership, of course, was largely ceremonial: Andy and Nick live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and their legal union is not respected by their state.

Both men grew up in Minnesota, and they met while studying at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Their home state - and being respected by their state government and community - is important to them.

In the past year, Nick and Andy have seen their relationship thrust in the middle of a state-wide conversation about same-sex couples and the freedom to marry. On November 6, Minnesotans will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that, if passed, would permanently exclude same-sex couples from marriage.

Andy said that the amendment would contradict all of the steps forward Americans have taken in recent years on respecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.

"Society has come so far in terms of how they viewed gay people in the 80s, 90s, and even early 2000s," Andy said. "Things have changed so much. To stop that forward progress with the passage of this amendment would make no sense. It would make everything go backward."

Some of Andy's concerns about not having his relationship respected in Minnesota stem from practical inequalities. As a firefighter, Andy knows that he has a greater risk of being injured than most other workers. If he were ever injured on the job, he'd want his partner - the man who has been the most important person in his life for fourteen years - to be able to make his medical decisions for him.

"I don't want to be sitting on a bed injured or burned or with my hand cut or whatever if Nick's not there," Andy said. "I want Nick to be with me and make those decisions. He knows what my wishes are, and I want him there in that official capacity."

As Election Day draws closer and closer, Andy and Nick continue to hope that Minnesotans consider the fact that the marriage amendment would do nothing but hurt same-sex couples and their families. They hope that Minnesotans will vote NO.

"I know that Nick and I want to spend the rest of our lives together, and getting married would just make it all the more special," Andy said, explaining that passing the amendment would make it very challenging for same-sex couples to one day marry in Minnesota.

Andy and Nick said that they hope they serve as a positive representation for why same-sex couples want to marry - and why same-sex couples in Minnesota would be so harmed by this discriminatory constitutional amendment. This Election season, Andy said he's had more than a few conversations with his friends and co-workers about the amendment, speaking openly about his relationship and commitment to Nick.

"People see my relationship with Nick, and many realize that it's the same as theirs," Andy said. "There's almost nothing different between my relationship and one that my co-worker has had with his wife for 14 years. Nick and I do things together, we pay bills together, and we share our lives together, in almost the exact same way. My conversations about my relationship may not change people's minds, but they may open up people's minds. I hope that people hear our story and think, 'They're normal. They're fine. Don't they deserve the same rights as me?'"

Photo Credits: Images by Coopersmith Photography, Coordination by Simply Elegant Bridal Consulting, Boutonnieres by Floral Logic. 

Editors' Note: On November 6, 2012, voters in MaineMarylandMinnesota and Washington will be voting on marriage-related ballot measures. Mainers are being asked to vote YES on Question 1 to proactively pass the freedom to marry at the ballot. Residents in Washington and Maryland are being asked to vote to APPROVE Referendum 74 and to vote FOR Question 6, respectively, to uphold marriage laws passed by their state legislatures in February and March 2012. Minnesotans are being asked to vote NO on a proposed amendment that would constitutionally exclude same-sex couples from marriage. In these next two months before the election, Freedom to Marry will be profiling couples and volunteers for the state campaigns. Read more about the ballot initiatives HERE, and read more stories from couples living in the ballot states HERE