Republican war hero speaks out for gay marriage

May 26, 2011|By Luke Broadwater

Fair or not, people's minds are ruled by stereotypes. When we hear a fact about someone, we tend to place that person and that fact into a category and apply to that person traits we associate with that category. 

For instance, if we hear someone is a Republican, we might assume our GOP-inclined friend is likely to be pro-life, pro-capital punishment, pro-small government, anti-gay marriage, etc. And if we hear someone is a soldier, we might assume the person is tough, physically fit and likely to be a Republican with the above views. 

This process of our minds is sometimes useful: We have so much data to process, it sometimes helps to simplify things so we aren't bogged down by information. But the problem with stereotypes is that they're often wrong: People are too complex and nuanced to fit into neat, little categories. 

That's what America learned this week about Republican Minnesota State Rep. John Kriesel -- a war hero who lost his legs in Iraq.

Up until about five years ago, Kriesel was a Republican solider who opposed gay marriage. At least in this regard, he fit nicely into a stereotype. 

That all changed with when he nearly died in combat and subsequently met the parents of Army Spc. Andrew Wilfahrt, who was killed in Afghanistan and happened to be gay. 

Speaking out on Saturday against Minnesota's proposed gay marriage ban, Kriesel recalled his near-death experience. 

"Everything changed," Kriesel said. "I went to Iraq. I was in an incident. I nearly died. I remember laying there, looking down and seeing my legs mangled and pretty much guaranteeing I was done. I thought that was where my life was going to end."

Kriesel said the incident caused him to reevaluate why he was fighting and the fundamental unfairness of the government telling a soldier like Wilfahrt he can fight and die for his country, but can't get married. 

"This amendment doesn't represent what I went to fight for," Kriesel said. "... It's hard to stand up against a group of people who you may be close with or stand up for something that may not be popular, but it's the right thing to do."

Kriesel's speech was moving. It brought the crowd to cheers and nearly brought him to tears. But it ultimately failed. Minnesota passed the same-sex marriage ban by a narrow margin.

Even in defeat, though, it's hard not to respect John Kriesel. 

Whatever you think about gay marriage, it's hard not to respect someone who's willing to take a stand and buck the stereotypes and leadership of his party. And it's even harder not to respect someone who speaks so passionately about a fallen soldier. 

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