I haven't always been a businessman, Chamber of Commerce member and community booster type of person in the mainstream of society. When I was younger, I existed, for lack of a better word, on the margin, as I didn't fit into any cliques, mainstream or otherwise, during my school years.

Living on the margin, you meet interesting people, some that I wouldn't want to include in my clique, if I ever had any desire to form a clique, as they were just not nice individuals. One of the good guys, though, I met in my last year of college. He was sociable, witty, friendly and interesting in a good way. The reason his life existed on the margin was not his choice, but because he was openly gay.

Several decades ago, mainstream society marginalized gay people, at least the few that would acknowledge their homosexuality. Those who were identified as gay were routinely ignored, or, worse, condemned, feared or hated by the majority of people.

I had a collection of misfit friends in college that knew what it is like to be judged, so they didn't question my friendship with him, at least. As I got to know this individual better, I noticed that he would just disappear for lengths of time.

One day, I asked him about his lapses and he told me that he would check himself into a mental health facility to get help coping with life, sometimes using drastic measures.

That revelation still haunts me, although I hadn't really thought about him until recently when the debate about same-sex marriage in Minnesota came to the forefront. There is a push at the capital by legislators to allow same-sex marriage after voters last fall defeated an amendment to rewrite the state constitution to prohibit it.

Some opponents in the debate still say they believe that homosexuality is a choice. Yet, I ask myself why would an individual choose a so-called lifestyle that drives him to such deep despair? No one would choose that.

Although I have no idea what happened to him after college, as he wasn't a close friend, I now wonder how his life turned out. As gay people became more accepted in our society over the past few decades, did he find some inner, lasting peace so he wouldn't feel the need to disappear at times?

I also wonder if he found a partner to share in his life. If he did, would being denied the choice to legally declare this relationship a marriage also cause despair?

Some opponents of same-sex marriage argue that it will weaken traditional marriages. My wife and I have been married for more than 30 years. There are threats to our marriage, but gay couples showing their commitment through marriage isn't one of them.

In fact, I speculate that if this long-ago friend lived with a partner in our neighborhood today and was an important part of our lives, a real marriage for him could strengthen our marriage. With society accepting his committed relationship, perhaps that would help make him a whole person, one that could contribute fully to the community and add enjoyment to our married lives since he wouldn't have that anxiety looming over him.

I realize that in rural Minnesota, there is not much support for same-sex marriage, at least as evidenced by the vote totals on the constitutional amendment last fall.

That's because there aren't many gay people, at least openly gay people, living in rural Minnesota. When people meet gay individuals or when friends or family members come out of the closet, heterosexual people find out they are just as human as the rest of us and they often change their minds. Confronting the humanity of an issue will often overcome abstract, theoretical principles, which is why this issue is changing so rapidly across the country, even in rural areas, albeit at a slower pace.

This is also a religious issue for many. Yet, not all religions agree on this and a change in legal status wouldn't force religions to change their beliefs or practices. Besides, the religious argument seems to center around homosexuality, not marriage, and a change in the law won't change human nature. There will still be just as many gay people as before.

The difference with a change in the marriage status will be that gay people won't be treated as second-class citizens. They won't be denied the ability to take care of family issues, health care directives and other rights most of us take for granted.

It's time for Minnesota to join our neighbor to the south - Iowa, where little has changed for the worse in society since same-sex marriage was made legal four years ago - and other states that have opened the doors to gay couples.

I realize this stance has the potential to put me back on the margin of rural society. However, that's my choice and I know I'm fortunate to have that choice. However, I also feel the need to speak out for those decent, loving citizens that remain marginalized through no choice of their own.