Talking about Politics and Sexuality at Church

This November, Minnesota voters will have the chance to accept or reject a proposed state constitutional amendment that would write a definition of marriage into the state constitution. Understanding the sensitivities that arise when talking in the church about either politics or sexuality – let alone both! – I shared the following letter in my congregation’s August newsletter as a first step to kicking off a formal conversation about these matters.

Dear members of Grace,

We’re about to ramp up to a busy fall election season – every member of the state legislature is up for election; there’s an election for President of the United States, and an election for one of our US Senators; and, there are two state constitutional amendments up for approval in November. It will be busy. The airwaves will be crowded. You’ll hear and read lots of conflicting and diverse messages. As bothersome as all the advertising might be – and yes, it will be – there are important matters before us, and we should take care in preparing to cast our votes.

One of the topics before voters this November will be the issue of same-gender marriage. Same-gender marriage is illegal in Minnesota, and the proposed state constitutional amendment would write a prohibition of such marriages into our state constitution.

If you open your worship book to page 286, you’ll find the Marriage liturgy. Marriage has been part of human society for eons, and has been part of the life of the church for over 1500 years. Marriage is among those rites of the church that are sometimes referred to as “pastoral services,” that is, as non-sacramental services that accompany significant moments in one’s life. The church has been interested in marriage for a long, long time.

Yet the church’s role in weddings is not an uncomplicated matter. Marriage is a legal union of two people that is regulated by the state. The government determines who can marry whom. When pastors preside at weddings they are officiating over a ceremony that is simultaneously civil and religious – enacting the civil marriage in the eyes of the state, while also proclaiming God’s blessings upon the couple. The church’s ministry with marrying couples is indeed intertwined with the government’s policy on marriage.

Rarely do Christians have the opportunity to cast a vote in the public sphere on a matter of such historic significance in the life of the church. Few times, if ever, have ballot initiatives or constitutional amendments been so clearly connected to the life of the church as is this upcoming vote on a state constitutional amendment that would limit marriage to opposite gender couples. This is a unique time for our church and for our state.

Marriage is in our worship books and is among our church’s most cherished traditions. And this November, marriage will also be on the ballot. Clearly, we in the church should be talking about this. We’re not all going to agree, of course, and some of us might be weary of such conversations. But I invite all interested members to share conversation, prayer, deliberation, and study around these matters, in informal conversation and in structured settings. At dates and times to be announced next month, I will convene a series of gatherings for any who wish to explore these matters here at Grace.

In this election season, we pray that God blesses us – and the people of this state – with a spirit of understanding and a desire to seek the greater good.

Peace to you,

Pastor Chris Duckworth

I got a MN drivers license – and voted – without any proof of living here

But Voter ID is a bad fix to a legitimate problem.

Shortly after moving to Minnesota last August, I got a drivers license and registered to vote without ever showing any proof of residency. I didn't have to present a utility bill sent to my address in my name. I didn't have to show a signed lease or mortgage agreement. Nothing of the sort. I had all that paperwork and more with me at the Driver and Vehicle Services office, but I didn't need it. I filled out a form, wrote a check, took a computer test, got my photo taken … and voila, in a few weeks my drivers license appeared in the mail at my house. And with my drivers license I also registered to vote, and in November I voted at my local polling station.

I got my government-issued drivers license – and registration to vote – without ever once demonstrating that I actually live in Minnesota. Sure, I had to list a home address to which the license would be sent, but I never had to offer any proof that I resided there. That address could have been my cousin's house. Or a friend's house. Or a random house where I could gain access to the mailbox.

That seems strange. In fact, after moving between five addresses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia over the past ten years, this is the first time that I can recall not needing some proof of residency – a utility bill or lease agreement, for example – when applying for a drivers license or when registering to vote. Either my experience was a fluke, or Minnesota does not require any proof of residence in order to receive a drivers license. I'm not sure which.

In a day and age where a drivers license is used for much more than simply demonstrating that someone is legally licensed to drive – it is used to track purchases of pseudoephedrine at pharmacies, and is used to verify identity before boarding airplanes, neither of which have anything to do with being licensed to drive – I am surprised that I was able to get a license in Minnesota without showing where I live. (I did show my Virginia drivers license, through which they punched a hole, but clearly my Virginia license did not show my new Minnesota address.) Minnesota should require some proof of residency before handing out a drivers license and registering someone to vote.

That being said, I wholeheartedly oppose the proposed Voter ID constitutional amendment passed by the Minnesota State House last evening. This proposed state constitutional amendment would require voters to present photo identification at the polling station each time they desire to vote. Rather than require voters to carry and present identification at the polling station, Minnesota should require that residents demonostrate proof of residency before they receive a government-issued identification and register to vote in the first place. But, once a person's residency is substantiated by some sort of proof – a utility bill sent in the mail, a lease or mortgage agreement, etc. – requiring a government-issued identification card at the polling station is an excessive requirement that would disproportionately harm those who don't have or regularly use government-issued identification. Again, if legitimate proof of residence is used to demonstrate residency in the voter registration process (and thus get one's name on the poll book), there is no need to require a voter to present a government-issued identification each time they wish to exercise their constitutionally-protected right to vote. Too many legally-registered voters simply don't have government-issued identification cards, particularly the elderly and the young.

There is no proof that voter fraud is a significant – or even a minor – problem in our state. It is a non-issue. This proposed constitutional amendment doesn't succeed in eliminating (non-existent) voter fraud. Instead, it only succeeds in establishing a barrier for voters to clear before entering the voting booth.

Voter ID doesn't address the problem I discovered, but instead it creates other problems.
If the legislature would like to protect or enhance the integrity of the voting process, perhaps they can look at the process of gaining a government-issued identification and registering to vote in the first place. In my own experience – which might be unique, or might be widely shared – there is a legitimate problem to fix in voter registration and the issuing of drivers licenses, but not in voting itself. The state can fix a problem by requiring some proof of residency in the voter registration process, but it only creates problems by requiring identification cards at the polling station.