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Gay-marriage supporters tout freedom to persuade Republican legislators

Their argument is that prohibiting marriage for same-sex couples directly contradicts the Republican principle of personal freedom.

GOP Sens. Dan Hall and Warren Limmer confer during Tuesday's Senate same-sex marriage hearings. Both are strong opponents of legalizing same-sex marriage.
MinnPost photo by James Nord

From their cell phones to their emails to their Capitol hangouts, the men and women who are lobbying Republican legislators to support gay marriage are shouting, “Let freedom ring.”

With gay marriage legislation headed for a full House and Senate vote, Minnesotans United for All Families, the umbrella group for legalizing gay marriage, has put its Republican team into high gear. 

The team consists of Connolly Kuhl Group for grass-roots outreach, and Messerli & Kramer and Hill Capitol Strategies for direct lobbying.

They’re working to round up enough Republican votes to offset DFLers who oppose gay marriage and to give passage some semblance of bipartisan support.

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The message to Republicans runs strong on the theme of liberty.

The argument is that prohibiting marriage for same-sex couples directly contradicts the Republican principle of personal freedom and is another example of unwanted and unnecessary government interference.

“Everybody who has signed on has had pretty decent response, not a ton of pushback,” said Carl Kuhl, Republican communications consultant.

Still, the freedom argument swings both ways.

Even though the legislation (SF 925HF 1054) allows churches and religious organizations to have control over whom they choose to marry, gay marriage opponents counter it will impinge upon religious freedom, beliefs and teachings.

That requires Republican lobbyists and messengers to perform a delicate dance of words.

“We are not talking about the religious sense of marriage,” said Kuhl. “It is the civil sense of marriage.”

He said that when voters are told the legislation protects religious freedom and refers to civil marriage, the positive response to gay marriage increases.

Minnesotans United has just completed an internal poll with a similar question. According to its communications director, Jake Loesch, the poll showed 49 percent supporting gay marriage and 44 percent opposing it.

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“There is not going to be overwhelming support right now for freedom to marry,” he said.  “But this is a conservative values issue.”

Loesch and others involved in the Republican lobbying effort acknowledge that most GOP legislators are conflicted.

“They worry this may be too fast too soon. [But] a lot of folks understand this is an evolving issue,” said the 30-something Kuhl. “The world is changing.”

Lobbyists understand the internal turmoil. They are talking to legislators, who in turn must talk to their constituents — the people who will decide whether to return them to office.

To counter concerns about re-election, Freedom to Marry, a national gay marriage group, analyzed election results [PDF] in 2012 in New York, Washington state, New Jersey, and Maryland.  Only two of the 13 Republicans who supported gay marriage in those states lost their seats because of their vote, according to the study.

Minnesotans United promises there will be tangible support for Minnesota Republicans who may face a primary challenge if they support gay marriage.

That support, political and financial, is likely to emerge from a new group, Republicans United for Freedom, whose steering committee features such notable Minnesota Republicans as Richard Painter, a member of the George W. Bush administration; Dale Carpenter, head of the civil law division of the University of Minnesota College of Law; and Susan Kimberly, who was deputy mayor of St. Paul under former Mayor Norm Coleman.

dale carpenter photo
MinnPost photo by James Nord
University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter serves on the steering committee of Republicans United for Freedom.

Defending individual liberty is the Republicans United mission. Not coincidentally, a group of prominent national Republicans used similar language in an amicus brief filed in support of overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Minnesota United’s Loesch believes these Republican groups eventually will coalesce and morph into political action committees for the 2014 elections.

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For the moment, though, the focus is on the handful of Republicans in the Minnesota House and Senate who may vote in favor of gay marriage when the bill comes to the floor, likely toward the end of the legislative session.

Under the best of conditions, even with the siren call of liberty, it will be a tough vote. The job of the Republican lobbying team is to convince legislators that it’s time to take the tough vote and make it count for a stand on Republican principle.