Although most legislators would prefer talking about taxes, the weather or just about anything else, same-sex marriage again has moved front and center at the Capitol.
Full-page ads in the St. Paul and Minneapolis newspapers on Wednesday kicked off the start of a final big push to legalize same-sex marriage.
The push continues Thursday at the Capitol when about 1,500 supporters of same-sex marriage are expected to show up for one-on-one sessions with legislators from across the state.
But it’s that ad, signed by 27 business leaders, that offers the most intriguing lobbying. The ad, paid for by Minnesotans United, is an open letter to Gov. Mark Dayton, House Speaker Paul Thissen and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk.
The letter comes quickly to the point: “As Minnesota business people, we strongly believe that it is in our state’s long-term best interests for the Legislature to ensure that all Minnesotans have the same freedom to marry the person they love. Supporting the freedom to marry is the right thing to do. It also is smart business.’’
The ad would seem to put many Republican legislators in an interesting corner.
It is, after all, Republican legislators who most often speak of being pro-business and the need to keep the state at the competitive forefront. Yet, at the same time, it was members of the GOP who pushed the failed marriage amendment and now offer nearly united opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage.
In reality, it’s clear that even GOP legislators who lean to moderate views are more concerned about the blowback they’d receive from social conservatives than from business on the same-sex marriage issue.
Despite those full-page ads, despite the number of corporate leaders calling for marriage equality, neither the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce nor the Minnesota Business Partnership are rushing to the front on this issue.
“This is an issue individual companies are taking up on their own,’’ said Chamber spokesman Jim Pumarlo. “Therefore we have not taken a position.’’
Chamber, Partnership on sidelines
The Chamber and Business Partnership may be sitting on the sidelines, but Richard Carlbom, executive director of Minnesotans United, said that leaders of large businesses, especially those with offices in several states, have been eager to support the same-sex marriage cause.
Carlbom said that if the Supreme Court strikes down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, business leaders understand that legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota will be even more important if the state is to remain competitive in attracting top talent.
“If we don’t get it done,’’ Carlbom said, “companies like Target, the Carlson Companies, 3M are going to be in a difficult spot.’’
His example: A company with headquarters in Minnesota and offices in a state such as New York, where same-sex marriage is legal, wants to promote someone from the New York office to Minnesota. But that person is in a same-sex marriage, which would not be recognized in Minnesota.
In addition, federal and state benefits that the couple might receive in New York would not be available in a state where same-sex marriage is not allowed. Why would the person be interested in coming to Minnesota? Over time, would various corporations decide that Minnesota just wouldn’t work as a home base?
“Businesses have been quick to understand the importance,’’ Carlbom said.
More importantly, many business leaders have worked with their business peers “to help them understand the importance of the issue,’’ Carlbom added.
Opponents rallying, too
Autumn Leva, spokesperson for Minnesota for Marriage, the umbrella organization for groups opposing same-sex marriage, is not impressed by the position being taken by some business leaders.
“In looking at the ad, what I see are metro area folks trying to conduct their social experiments on the rest of us,’’ Leva said.
What Leva doesn’t acknowledge is that business has been taking on these “social experiments’’ nationally. The push by business is acknowledged by many as the key reason a reluctant New York legislature passed a same-sex marriage law in 2011.
Also, more than 300 businesses signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of those attempting to overturn portions of DOMA before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Be that as it may, Minnesotans for Marriage is in the midst of conducting a statewide series of rallies, though weather has not been cooperative. The bitter cold, she believes, was responsible for a low turnout at an outdoor rally in Hinckley last weekend, and a winter storm forced cancellation of events scheduled for Detroit Lakes and Morris last Sunday.
But despite the weather, the rallies will continue through this weekend. The purpose, Leva said, is to remind Minnesotans that legislators need to hear from them regarding opposition to same-sex marriage.
Leva said that while Minnesotans United have purchased the ads in the two metro newspapers, her organization has purchased ads in smaller papers throughout the state. She also noted that her organization held a Capitol rally six weeks ago that, she said, attracted about 1,200 people who oppose same-sex marriage.
“Legislators need to pause and consider, ‘Am I voting based on what my constituents want or what lobbyists are telling me?’ ” Leva said.
The key question remains whether the issue will get to the floor next month. House Speaker Paul Thissen has implied that there won’t be a House vote unless same-sex marriage can pass.
Meantime, both Carlbom and Leva seem to believe that proponents of same-sex marriage need “less than a handful” of votes in the House for passage. Carlbom believes there are about 12 House members “on the fence,’’ meaning somewhere in that group, proponents need to find four or five more “yes’’ votes.
But Carlbom does believe that the Legislature will deal with the measure this session, and the big push to make that happen has begun.