By Colin Smith
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For two decades, Stan Genedek has made buildings crumble across Minnesota.
The man behind Mendota Heights-based Genedek Landscaping and Excavation is used to receiving job requests and questions from advice-seekers around the state every day.
But this year, he’s getting something else in his inbox: hate mail.
“They usually read ‘I hope your business fails’ or ‘You’re a close-minded bigot,'” Genedek said. “I’ve received a few that say ‘I hope you die.'”
For the first time, Genedek is wading into the dangerous waters of mixing business and politics. He supports the Minnesota’s Constitutional amendment that recognizes marriage as solely between one man and one woman.
“My stance is the government needs to stay out of the decision,” Genedek said. “I believe gays and lesbians should have all of the same rights, but it shouldn’t be defined by that word in a religious context. If government starts telling religious leaders how to treat gay marriage, what else could they force onto them?”
Genedek labels himself a supporter of gay rights — he’s proud to call a number of gays and lesbians customers. He would support civil unions ‘100 percent’ — just nothing with the word marriage attached to it.
Genadek has beat back the backlash, responding to every negative email he receives. It’s an often futile effort to explain his position to his opponents.
“I just wish people would talk to me about it rationally,” Genedek said. “I want to tell people (they) are pigeon-holing me into something that I’m not — I’m not a gay-hater. Just because you back an issue doesn’t mean you back it for the reasons they think you do.”
It’s a risky proposition — mixing business and politics. Unlike larger companies that have taken a stance on gay marriage, most small businesses afford to lose hundreds of boycotting customers — it’s the difference between putting food on the table or going hungry.
The response has been much more positive for Dan Marshall.
At Peapods in St. Paul, Marshall and his wife have stocked the toy store with everything from trains to trucks to cloth diapers.
But look closely and you’ll see something else: Rainbow flags for sale. In the front window a ‘Vote No’ sign faces Como Avenue.
“(Opposing the marriage amendment) speaks so clearly to the values we’ve chosen as a store,” Marshall said. “We want to treat all families equally and be a friendly, embracing store.”
Marshall has the benefit of being in a more gay-friendly neighborhood. Up and down Como, the yard signs predominately oppose the marriage amendment and support Democratic candidates.
That environment made the decision easier.
“This store is our livelihood,” said Marshall, a father of four children. “If we thought this (political) decision was going to be devastating or chase away half of our customer base, we would have a hard time taking a stance.”
As it is, Marshall believes supporting the amendment has actually improved business.
“We’ve had people come in the store because of the sign out front,” Marshall said. “Just the other day I got a call from someone who had heard we opposed the amendment. He just wanted me to know that he appreciated the support and it goes a long way. Hearing that — it kind of made my day.”
With the election less than one month away and the rhetoric heating up, both men stand behind their decisions, and have no regrets.
“I’d absolutely do it over again,” Genadek said. “I have no reservations, I just wish we could have a normal conversation about it — that’s all I want.”