Minn. marriage amendment a hot -- and confusing -- topic at Pride fest

Pledging to vote "no"
From left to right: Latrice Harvey, 22, of Brooklyn Park and Jakeea Quirk, 21, of St. Cloud sign petitions pledging to vote "no" to the same-sex marriage amendment at the Twin Cities Pride Festival in Minneapolis, Minn. on Saturday, June 25, 2011. OutFront Minnesota volunteers Joey Lusvardi and Marie Shea say many people don't understand what the amendment would do.
MPR Photo/Carolina Astrain

This year's Twin Cities Pride Festival began one day after the state of New York passed a law legalizing same sex marriage.

The new law was a source of pride for the hundreds of people who flooded Loring Park — but it also drew a contrast to the proposed amendment many advocates at Pride were organizing against.

Tracie Knapp spent hours explaining to festival-goers that a state amendment on the state ballot next year wouldn't legalize same-sex marriage; it would define marriage as between a man and a woman. Knapp was a volunteer for the gay rights group Minnesotans United for All Families.

"I think the explanation that we're asking people to vote 'no' instead of 'yes' might confuse them but that's good," she said. "That's why we're doing this."

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Knapp was one of dozens of organizers out educating voters at Pride. It was gay rights advocates first chance to talk to their voting base about the amendment, and they found that over the coming year, they'd have a lot of work to do.

University of Minnesota political science assistant professor Kathryn Pearson said the conversations at Pride represent the start of a campaign by gay rights advocates to educate voters, and she's not surprised there's some confusion.

"How an amendment is framed can be very complicated. And a group's success on really hinges on how much money they have to make the issue clear," she said. "In this particular case there will be a lot of money on both sides. And so I think by the time the 2012 elections occur people will be pretty clear on how they're voting."

Encouraging people to vote "no"
In a photo taken Saturday, June 25, 2011, Josh (left) and Justin Grant, participate in Pride events in Minneapolis. The two turned 30 on the day of the parade.
MPR Photo/Carolina Astrain

Pearson also points out the complexity of the issue can work against amendment supporters, especially if confused voters skip the question.

"If someone votes for anything on the ballot but does not actually vote one way or another on this particular amendment it will essentially be counted as a 'no' vote, because in order to pass it has to have a majority of people saying yes on all ballots cast," she said.

Minnesota already has a law on the books defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Amendment supporters say there's just one thing their voting base needs to understand: Without a constitutional amendment, gay rights supporters will continue pushing to replace the current law with one that legalizes same-sex marriage.

"Several bills have been introduced to legalize same sex marriage," said Chuck Darrell, spokesman for the Minnesota for Marriage Coalition. "But instead what you can see is that our legislature wisely decided to allow the people to vote. What happened in New York is exactly why we need a constitutional amendment in Minnesota."

Festival-goers at Pride didn't seem surprised that Minnesota would be contemplating a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"In the city I feel like we have a bubble of like liberalism and 'do whatever you want' and 'anything goes,' and respect everyone, be courteous," said Josh Grant, who was celebrating his 30th birthday at Pride with his identical twin. "But I feel like just miles outside of here it's a different story."

But Grant thinks that bubble will survive whatever happens in Minnesota over the coming year.