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Battle over gay marriage amendment would rock Minnesota’s 2012 political landscape

The National Organization for Marriage held a rally last July at the state Capitol against same-sex marriage.
Photo courtesy of Fibonacci Blue
The National Organization for Marriage held a rally last July at the state Capitol against same-sex marriage.

Let the fundraising begin.

A handful of Republican legislators this week proposed placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot for 2012 that would define marriage as only between a man and a woman.

In the process, they dramatically changed the landscape of politics in Minnesota.

Legislative seats will be won and lost on the issue. Religious groups will line up on either side of the issue. Families will be divided. And money, oh so much money, will be spent fighting over what a 21st Century marriage should look like.

Assuming the Republican majorities in the House and Senate move the amendment to the ballot, the state will be headed for a costly campaign that will drain money from many other races. In 2008, more than $80 million was spent in California on the state’s marriage-amendment campaign alone. That was a record for any race other than a presidential race.

A constitutional amendment calling for voter ID — which also was tossed into the legislative hopper on Wednesday — would not carry the emotional weight that the marriage amendment carries.

Opposing groups — Family Council, OutFront — gear up
At this point, two of the organizations that would be in the center of a 2012 marriage campaign — the Minnesota Family Council, which supports such an amendment, and OutFront Minnesota, which opposes it — are concentrating on the present.

OutFront Minnesota, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, already has a petition on its website urging people to nip the amendment idea in the bud.

Monica Meyer
Photo by Sophia Hantzes
Monica Meyer

“We’re calling out to people across Minnesota to get in touch with their legislators and say, ‘Let’s not go down this path,’ ” said Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront. “We don’t have polling data, but typically this issue is not a top priority with people. The priorities are the economy, well-paying jobs.”

Meyer believes there are substantial numbers of Republican legislators “who didn’t have this issue on their radar” when they were elected six months ago.

While OutFront is trying to stop the Legislature from moving the amendment proposal to the ballot, the Minnesota Family Council will be pressuring members to make sure that it is.

Like the Republican senators who stepped forward with the proposal, the council’s executive director, Tom Prichard, said allowing a vote on the amendment is all about democracy.

“Our polling shows that 75 percent want the chance to vote on this,” said Prichard.

After years of failing to get an amendment through a DFL-controlled Legislature, Prichard said, “We’re very hopeful.”

Meyer and Pritchard agree on one thing: This is not necessarily a partisan issue.

There are conservative DFLers who likely would lean toward supporting the amendment and some Republicans who would probably like to run as far away from the issue as they can.

So, which legislators will end up where is just one of the intriguing questions surrounding this amendment.

Same-sex marriage supporters also gathered at the state Capitol the same day to counter the National Organization for Marriage rally.
Photo courtesy of Fibonacci Blue
Same-sex marriage supporters also gathered at the state Capitol the same day to counter the National Organization for Marriage rally.

There are other questions as well: How will it affect political races in 2012? Will fiscally conservative suburbanites line up with social conservatives? Is it good or bad for supporters of the amendment that 2012 is a presidential election year? Will the issue hurt all those first-term Republicans who won campaigning largely on fiscal issues in 2010?

Prichard said he doesn’t know — or particularly care — about any of those questions.

“At this point, our concern is passing it through the Legislature and getting it on the ballot,” he said. “Those other things are not part of the calculations.”

Potentially high-risk move for GOP?
At first glance, this would seem to be a high-risk move for legislative Republicans to take.

Here they are, just six months removed from sweeping to majorities in the House and Senate by winning a bunch of races by minuscule margins, and they’re throwing their support behind a controversial social issue.

Think about it. Republicans seemed to do so well in the last election by concentrating entirely on fiscal policy. Isn’t there a risk, especially in suburban districts, of losing some of the support they just gained?

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, doesn’t think so. He doesn’t buy the notion that many of the “new Republicans” and the “Tea Party” Republicans are fiscal conservatives but social libertarians.

“In my opinion,” said Hann, a supporter of the amendment, “you can’t divorce social conservativism from fiscal conservatism. I don’t believe you can say, ‘I’ll be a fiscal conservative but socially neutral.’ ”

Why not?

If you want limited government, Hann explains, you need “moral virtue” and “discipline” and other verities that “reinforce the idea of individuals being accountable.”

It’s Hann’s view that marriage is fundamental to these verities.

“Supporting marriage as a positive institution is a worthy thing to do,” he said.

But NOT marriage between two men or two women.

“Marriage between a man and a woman is the preferable way to raise children,” he explained.

Hann’s explanations underscore why this is an issue that will generate so much heat.

But he doesn’t think the issue will generate the passion it has in other places because state law already defines marriage as exclusively between a male and a female.

So why an amendment?

Sen. David Hann
Sen. David Hann

“The issue has been around for so long,” he said. “This [amendment] would bring some closure to it.”

The only reason Republicans brought it up now is the Friday deadline for introducing new bills. Additionally, Hann said, the Legislature has its work done on budget bills.

For all their expressions of disgust over the introduction of the amendment proposal, DFLers must be pleased that the Republicans are showing their socially conservative side again.

Fight could drain funds from other races
Yes, in some ways, this has the potential to drain money from legislative races, much as any race involving U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann does. (Politicos outside the 6th District frequently have noted how a Bachmann race “sucks the money” out of every other race in the state.)

On the other hand, DFLers believe they lost their majorities — not to mention the 8th Congressional District seat — because too much of their base stayed home.

Not only will the marriage amendment inspire the progressive base, it could help swing those socially moderate suburban legislative districts back to the DFL.

Certainly, the issue will inspire a lot of people to spend a lot of money.

“So much money would be spent, and none of it would do anything to help the economy or create jobs,”said OutFront’s Meyer. “I just hope that our legislators think about this very carefully before they start us down this road.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (32)

  1. Submitted by Cecil North on 04/28/2011 - 10:15 am.

    “In my opinion,” said Hann, a supporter of the amendment, “you can’t divorce social conservativism from fiscal conservatism. I don’t believe you can say, ‘I’ll be a fiscal conservative but socially neutral.’ ”

    And that, in a nutshell is the new GOP, folks (Log Cabin Republicans, take note). The GOP never used to have trouble making the distinction between social and fiscal “conservativism” (really radicalism, at this point). At this point, the GOP is simply the party of the religious fringe.

    “Divorce” is an interesting choice of words. Certainly, we can look forward to a constitutional amendment banning that as well? You know, in defense of marriage?

  2. Submitted by C Kaiser on 04/28/2011 - 10:45 am.

    If letting the majority cast votes on whether or not the minority should have any specific God-given rights, was in vogue back in the days of slavery, we all know how that would have ended. This is nothing more than hatred being written into our state’s constitution…Nothing more, nothing less. By the way, Republican legislators…Where are the jobs?

  3. Submitted by Tim Mady on 04/28/2011 - 10:49 am.

    These people will always overreach and once put back into a leadership position their act is no surprise. They’ve got God on their side afterall. It’s all earnest delusion. Thankfully we have elections every two years.

  4. Submitted by jody rooney on 04/28/2011 - 10:51 am.

    Why is the marriage people look so grumpy and the same sex marriage people so happy?

  5. Submitted by Addie Moe on 04/28/2011 - 10:59 am.

    So much for smaller government – the government should stay out of the business of businss but it sure can be in the business of people’s lives…

  6. Submitted by M Cathcart on 04/28/2011 - 11:17 am.

    I thought “jobs” was the most important focus for the Legislature. Guess not.

  7. Submitted by Don Medal on 04/28/2011 - 11:33 am.

    What happened to “jobs, jobs, jobs”?

  8. Submitted by B Maginnis on 04/28/2011 - 11:35 am.

    Vote, baby, vote!

  9. Submitted by B Maginnis on 04/28/2011 - 11:47 am.

    Disingenuous at best, Cecil.

    Social conservatives generally don’t favor the “divorce culture”, either.

  10. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 04/28/2011 - 12:17 pm.

    I know BD, as long as we’re voting on peoples’ rights, let’s vote to see if we should allow conservatives to practice religion. It seems to me they can’t be trusted with it.

  11. Submitted by Alicia DeMatteo on 04/28/2011 - 12:31 pm.

    Cecil – Divorce IS an interesting word choice in this debate. Maybe republicans should throw in a constitutional ban for divorce while they’re at it, seeing as how a divorced family is such an unsuitable way to raise children and all.

    Please please please MN, can we be more progressive than Iowa??

  12. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 04/28/2011 - 12:37 pm.

    “focusing on the economy and jobs like a lazer”

  13. Submitted by Barb Heideman on 04/28/2011 - 12:39 pm.

    Since MN already has a Defense of Marriage (DOMA)law, and if the ammendment fails, wouldn’t the state DOMA still hold? This looks like a no-lose deal for the Repubs and the folks who actually care about “defending” marriage. In any case, I say “Bring It ON” because I believe the ammendment WOULD fail and perhaps pave the way for a real victory regarding non-traditional marriages once and for all. Then we can move on to more productive discussions (in my dreams…)

  14. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 04/28/2011 - 12:44 pm.

    If the Republicans put this on the 2012 ballot in Minnesota, they will get creamed. Young people think this is stupid by a two-thirds majority. 18-24 year olds will come out for this and vote against and the party that put it on the ballot.

    The second this thing passes, we can begin referring to Hann as former Sen. David Hann.

    In addition, their own children will be embarrassed most of their lives. This will look as abhorrent as Jim Crow laws look to us today.

  15. Submitted by bernie hesse on 04/28/2011 - 01:02 pm.

    The politics of distraction. I am a conservative catholic who lives in an urban area and I see the move to the constitutional amendment as merely a ploy to take our eyes of corporate greed. The conservative, christian, whatevers are merely tools used to divert a real discussion around our society and how wealth is distributed.

  16. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/28/2011 - 01:24 pm.

    Acording to KSTP, their a poll showed 62% of the voters would vote Yes on the constitutional amendment to make marriage between a man and a woman.

    The only “risk” the GOP is taking here is whether the polling places will run out of ballots before the 90% of the people who also want Voter ID can get to vote for it.

  17. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 04/28/2011 - 02:10 pm.

    GOP legislators oppose abortion, but want no social programs to benefit poor children after they’re born. No wonder we have the largest percentage of our people incarcerated of any developed country in the world.

  18. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/28/2011 - 02:57 pm.

    Article I, Section 16 of the Minnesota State Constitution:

    “Freedom of conscience; no preference to be given to any religious establishment or mode of worship. The enumeration of rights in this constitution shall not deny or impair others retained by and inherent in the people.

    “The right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience shall never be infringed; nor shall any man be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any religious or ecclesiastical ministry, against his consent;


    “but the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of the state; nor shall any money be drawn from the treasury for the benefit of any religious societies or theological seminaries.”

  19. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 04/28/2011 - 04:25 pm.

    After slowly gaining support over the last few decades, for the first time ever polls are now showing that a majority of Americans support gay marriage.

    The main reason for the change is that younger people are far more supportive of gay rights than older people. Looking at the demographics, it is absolutely 100 percent certain that gay marriage will someday be the legal in the entire country. It may be 5 years or it may be 10, but its coming. Unless these legislators are really, really stupid (a possibility, I’ll admit) they know this to be true. Even if their amendment passes, they are just postponing the inevitable.

    The idea that a gay marriage amendment is going to help Republicans is not really supported by the evidence. Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban passed around 60-40 in 2006, but the Democrats held the governorship, the U.S. Senate seat, and actually gained in the legislature. Based on some of the comments, I think the Republicans know this as well.

    So what this comes down to is a last stand for bigotry and ignorance. One last chance to go down on the wrong side of history. If these guys want to put themselves up with the George Wallaces and Strom Thurmonds and the other holdouts in the fight for racial equality 50 years ago, go for it. But despite Dennis’s poll (which I could not find), looking at the national numbers and what has happened with other states legalizing gay marriage, I don’t think this thing will pass. As pathetic as it is that we actually are putting the civil rights of some people to a popular vote, I say “bring it.”

  20. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/28/2011 - 05:04 pm.

    “Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban passed around 60-40 in 2006, but the Democrats held the governorship, the U.S. Senate seat, and actually gained in the legislature.”

    So that should tell you that even moral democrats, should any still exist, voted for the ban on gay marriage in Wisconsin, like they did in California for example.

  21. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 04/28/2011 - 05:33 pm.

    You can’t vote on constitutional rights. If it somehow passes it is a ripe issue for the courts. But I no longer trust the U.S. Supreme Court.

  22. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 04/28/2011 - 07:16 pm.

    Dennis, I can’t think of anything less “moral” than denying people rights based on ignorance and hate. I would take the “morals” of the gay couples and gay parents I know over those of the bigots introducing this bill every time. Morals were used as a justification for segregation and bans on interracial marriage back in the civil rights fights of the 50s and 60s, and someday the idea that opposing gay rights on “moral” grounds will seem just as stupid.

    The Wisconsin and California votes – aside from demonstrating my point that Republicans don’t benefit politically from these amendments – demonstrate that people are slow to change. You have to look at how far this issue has come. 20 or 30 years ago gay marriage wasn’t even on the radar, and now its legal in a handful of states and a number of Western countries. 20 or 30 years from now your grandchildren will be absolutely horrified that you were posting online in opposition to gay marriage.

  23. Submitted by Ann Richards on 04/28/2011 - 08:02 pm.

    My district has a brand new GOP Rep who won by 30 votes. We have 2 colleges. Our local paper has already had letters from college students against the picture ID- if they move to a different dorm, they will need to reapply for a voter ID, the county seat is some distance away and most do not have cars. What do you think this marriage bill will do to those 30 votes on top of the ID issue. Also note that more seniors are opening up to the gay marriage issue, they have grandchildren who are influencing them.

    So they are done with the budget- where is it? And of course this should mean no Special Session.

  24. Submitted by mike fargione on 04/28/2011 - 09:38 pm.

    It would be useful to have MinnPost provide the specific language of the proposed amendment. The bill for a constitutional amendment offered a few years ago had language banning civil unions, although its sponsors touted it as only involving gay marriage. The bill (House File 6) said that only the union of one man and one woman could be recognized by the state or any political subdivision as a marriage “or its legal equivalent.” Consequently, getting health benefits for a same sex partner at the U of M or any other political subdivision could be challenged as unconsitutional if the amendment passed.

  25. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 04/28/2011 - 10:28 pm.

    Is it too cynical to believe this has more to do with “conservative” voter turn out in 2012 than anything else?

  26. Submitted by r batnes on 04/29/2011 - 01:12 am.

    Wow, the marriage people really look glum. I’m not surprised that they wouldn’t accept same sex marriage. That group doesn’t look like they would accept a new dish on the 4:30 Senior Special menu at Olive Garden.

  27. Submitted by Joe Carlin on 04/29/2011 - 12:08 pm.

    David Hann was quick to point out the difference between conservatives and Republicans. Conservatives want small government. Republicans want government small enough to fit in your bedroom.

  28. Submitted by Joe Carlin on 04/29/2011 - 12:14 pm.

    @Dennis: Minnesota state law ALREADY says marriage is between a man and a women. The Minnesota Supreme Court has ALREADY declared this law to be constitutional and REAFFIRMED it in 2010. If this amendment doesn’t pass, marriage will still be only between a man and a woman. If this amendment does pass marriage will still be only between a man and a woman, and we will have Constitutionally-mandated discrimination. And did you see what Proposition 8 did to California? It turns neighbor against neighbor, makes a minority go door to door to beg their neighbors not to take away their rights, and two and a half years later people STILL have bitter feelings about the whole fight. It is ugly. It is hateful. It is why a minority’s rights should NEVER be up to a public vote! And it will do nothing to Minnesota but tear this state up and divide us at a time when we need to be focused on putting Minnesotans back to work, not treating them as second class citizens.

  29. Submitted by Joe Carlin on 04/29/2011 - 12:24 pm.

    And Dennis, Proposition 8 passed by a narrow 52% of the vote. The head of Maine’s anti-SSM proposition admitted they had to LIE about the same things just to pass their proposition. (So much for being a devout Catholic!) In 2000, Proposition 22 passed with 61% of the vote. In 2008, Prop 8 passed with 52% of the vote. In 2009, Washington State overwhelmingly passes Prop 71 which gave same sex couples ALL the rights of marriage with 53% of the vote.

    Do you see where this is going? It’s unlikely Proposition 8 would pass today. THAT is why this is up for a ballot measure. The tide is turning, and they are scared of people changing their minds overwhelmingly TOWARDS equality, furiously working to ban it constitutionally before people agree to do it legislatively. And the constitution should NEVER be used to mandate discrimination!

  30. Submitted by Joe Carlin on 04/29/2011 - 12:43 pm.

    @jody: It’s from the National Organization for Marriage’s “summer for [opposing] marriage” tour last year. The guy who organized it (Louis Marinelli) was a huge opponents of marriage equality until he went to go work for NOM and ran the tour. He saw first hand was a horrible experience it was, actually met with the protestors, quit NOM and now is actually using his position to SUPPORT marriage equality. So yes, I believe your impressions are absolutely correct!

  31. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 04/30/2011 - 07:18 am.

    Why should one set of loving, consenting adults be denied a right that other such adults have and which, if exercised, will do no damage to anyone else?

  32. Submitted by Dan Gerber on 05/08/2011 - 09:30 pm.

    To Bernice,(#18) I’d vote for whatever amendment or
    re-write necessary to remove/change gender specific
    language eg. he, his, man, etc. from the state
    constitution to make it gender inclusive.

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