Big money already flowing into gay marriage fight

Same-sex marriage
o this point, gay marriage amendments have passed in every state where they've been on the ballot - often by a more than 3-to-1 margin.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

(AP) The group leading an effort to define marriage as a heterosexual institution in Minnesota raised $220,000 last year - more than half of it from just two donors who opened their wallets to the cause.

But that's just a fraction of the millions that could flow into the fight if a constitutional amendment makes it onto the ballot in November. The executive director of OutFront Minnesota said the gay rights group would spend $7 million to $8 million to defeat it.

Whether it makes the ballot is still an open question. Activists on both sides are getting ready for lawmakers to take up the issue soon after the Legislature opens March 1.

Feelings run deep on both sides - as evidenced by donations to Minnesota for Marriage. Two Twin Cities businessmen alone contributed $125,000 to the group, which advocates a constitutional amendment that would ask voters to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

It would also block civil unions, which opponents believe is marriage in all but name.

"I have a faith that moves me to make decisions like this," said Ron King, an Eden Prairie-based real estate developer who donated $35,000 to Minnesota for Marriage. "I believe ... our state of Minnesota and our nation need it in order to solidify family as a unit of society, integral to the continuation of a productive society."

His donation was surpassed only by Robert Cummins, president of Plymouth-based Primera, a printing company, who gave $90,000 to Minnesota for Marriage and $35,000 to an affiliated group, Minnesota Citizens for Defense of Marriage.

Cummins did not return a message left Thursday by The Associated Press.

By contrast, OutFront executive director Ann DeGroot said the group's political committee raised almost no money in 2005. Instead, the group used its usual funding sources to support its regular lobbying of state lawmakers. DeGroot said they'll do that again this year, asking Democrats who control the state Senate to continue keeping the measure off the ballot.

"We have never in Minnesota put people's rights and citizenship up for a vote," DeGroot said. "We shouldn't do it now."

But, DeGroot said, should the measure make it to the ballot, OutFront is laying the groundwork for an expensive campaign to oppose it. A separate but connected group, dubbed Together Minnesota, would take the lead in fundraising and campaigning.

Yet another new group, Equality Minnesota, would embark on a separate public relations campaign to link protection of the rights of gay and lesbian people, which they believe most people support, to the right to marry.

The precedent for a big-dollar campaign is there. In 2004, supporters and opponents of various gay marriage measures in other states spent $13 million on their efforts. The two groups spent in some cases more than $2 million in a few battleground states, including Oregon, Michigan and Ohio.

To this point, gay marriage amendments have passed in every state where they've been on the ballot - often by a more than 3-to-1 margin. While DeGroot said gay rights supporters know they'd face long odds, they'd get help from supporters around the country who are itching to see a gay marriage ban defeated somewhere.

"Minnesota has some conditions that could make us that state," she said. "We've been organized here for a long time, we've got lots of allies, and we've got voters with a long tradition of recognizing the right of people to live their lives."

Groups supporting the ban have had just as much success raising money for previous efforts, though, and Minnesota donors like King and George Anderson, a vice president at Crown Iron Works Corporation in Champlin who gave $10,000 last year, said they're ready to give more.

"I don't have anything against anyone personally," Anderson said. "But I think it's important to keep that definition straightforward, and not muddle it up."

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