Same-sex marriage supporters raise money to defeat amendment

Gay rights rally
Supporters gather outside the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., on April 14, 2011, for OutFront Minnesota's Lobby Day for LGBT Equality.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

Connie Nyman and Joann Usher of Arden Hills have been together for 20 years. They want to get married. And while they could drive a few hours to Iowa or Canada to do it legally, Usher says they have no plans to leave Minnesota.

"We want to have a wedding on our lake home here in Minnesota," Usher said. "It makes it possible for us -- we have a big family -- to have all of them there, our kids and our grandchildren. It would be fun to have everybody there."

That's why Nyman and Usher, along with more than 150 others, filled a downtown Minneapolis restaurant Monday night for a fundraiser hosted by the group Minnesotans United for All Families, one of the organizations fighting a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

The measure will be on the ballot in November 2012. If it's defeated, same-sex weddings would still not be allowed in Minnesota, since state law already prohibits them. But those opposed to the amendment say it would put discrimination in the state Constitution.

Gov. Mark Dayton made a brief appearance at the fundraiser, and he repeated what he's said in the past, that he believes the measure is un-American and un-Minnesotan.

"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should certainly include the right of any American citizen to marry the man or woman that he or she loves," Dayton said.

Twenty-nine states have passed constitutional amendments defining marriage between one man and one woman. Minnesotans United for All Families president Donald McFarland said given that history, defeating the amendment will be tough.

"A lot of people I know have spent their whole lives here, and they've never seen anything like this before," said McFarland. "This is just not like Minnesota. In Minnesota we treat people like we want to be treated."

McFarland said the campaign against the amendment began as soon as lawmakers approved the ballot measure. He said organizers hope to raise at least $4.7 million.

Opponents of same-sex marriage started even earlier. The National Organization for Marriage ran ads pushing for the amendment during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

John Henderson with the Minnesota Faith and Freedom Coalition said he believes a constitutional amendment is vital because a statutory ban on same-sex marriage is not enough.

"It's for the protection of marriage in the Judeo-Christian tradition of one man and one woman," Henderson said. "And there is, quite frankly, the possibility of this law being overturned by judges."

Henderson said his group's strategy, now that the issue is on the ballot, is plain old grass-roots organizing. He lists the ways Minnesota Faith and Freedom Coalition plans to build a pro-amendment base.

"Build chapters throughout the state. Recruit members and make certain that the conservative, social-minded individuals fully understand the issues at hand," he said.

Henderson notes that while Minnesota has a reputation as a state that leans left, social conservatives are a reliable voting bloc. And like his opponents, Henderson said work will continue constantly until November 2012.

While the debate is likely to get more heated, Ed Schiappa, professor of communications at the University of Minnesota, said the 17-month campaign will give people on both sides plenty of time to organize.

"You have a much longer period of time, and that creates an opportunity for more grass-roots efforts on both sides," Schiappa said. "And frankly, more opportunity for the public to give this some thought rather than sort of responding viscerally."

But Schiappa would not speculate on whether a long campaign favors one side over the other.

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