The question some leaders of the new DFL majorities had been hoping to avoid — whether Minnesota should join the states where gays and lesbians can marry — has become inevitable.
Both sides of the debate made it clear this week that they will be active when advocates push the issue as soon as the Legislature convenes next month.
Minnesotans United for All Families announced Thursday that it has reorganized as a campaign to push for the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2013. The group, which spent the last 18 months successfully working to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, will continue its strategy of encouraging Minnesotans to talk to one another about marriage.
“That conversation did not end on Election Day,” said Campaign Manager Richard Carlbom. “I see this as a continuation. Our goal is to bring this full circle.”
Gov. Mark Dayton earlier this month said he would sign a bill legalizing same-sex marriage if it reached his desk. “I hope we’re going to get to that point,” he told Minnesota Public Radio. “The younger generation is broadly accepting of that change and we’ll get there. It’s just a question of when.”
Minnesota for Marriage, the main group backing the proposed ballot question, has also announced it will continue its push to keep same-sex marriage off the books.
“Don’t be fooled by the public statements made by the majority leaders in our new legislature,” Chairman John Helmberger said in a statement. “Right now, gay marriage activists are pressing our new legislature and their ally Gov. Dayton to redefine marriage, just as we warned would happen throughout the amendment campaign.”
Both groups have reactivated their lists of supporters and have begun aggressive fundraising efforts.
Surprised and enervated as they were by their defeat at the polls in November, gay-marriage foes may not be Minnesotans United’s most formidable obstacle at the Capitol. Some DFL leaders have said the issue is not among their priorities this year and that they would prefer to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in two cases involving same-sex marriage pending before it this term.
The pending cases, which challenge the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8 ban on gay marriage, are unlikely to result in a sweeping decision affirming or denying same-sex marriage rights nationwide. Indeed, local court-watchers are predicting the justices will issue one or two narrow decisions that will ultimately leave the question to state courts or legislatures.
The challenge for gay rights advocates here, then, will be to convince lawmakers that instead of being politically daring — or an example of the dreaded “over-reach” some have fretted about — same-sex marriage is something about which their constituents feel a sense of urgency.
In this regard, the strategy Minnesotans United employed to defeat the proposed constitutional amendment may give it an advantage. The phone banks, house parties and social media it used to stage conversations about marriage allowed it to collect information about voters and social, political and religious networks in every legislative district in the state.
By Election Day, it had received donations from nearly 100,000 supporters and trained some 27,000 volunteers to start non-threatening conversations about marriage.
“We need their help,” Carlbom said in a recent interview. “We are going to call on them to help us complete the conversation.”