Same-sex marriage supporters, foes stake out ground at state fair

Same-sex marriage
Volunteer Tom Pavlick provides traditional marriage materials to Elizabeth Connolly, left, and her daughter-in-law Peggy Connolly outside the Church of Holy Childhood in St. Paul, Minn. Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2011. Minnesota for Marriage had a booth set up just blocks from the Minnesota State Fair.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The Minnesota State Fair always features a buffet of politics, and this year fairgoers have a new issue to chew on: a constitutional vote on marriage.

Voters will decide in November of 2012 whether Minnesota should add a constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriage.

There's still one more state fair before the 2012 elections, but proponents and opponents of the amendment are both preparing to battle for votes — and the fairgrounds is the site of an early skirmish.

At the House of Representatives booth inside the education building, lawmakers from both parties take turns fielding questions. Fairgoers can fill out a sample ballot on 12 hot button political issues.

One of questions reads "Should the state constitution be amended to define marriage as only a union of one man and one woman?"

Oren Quist, a Mankato resident who supports the amendment, is glad the question will be on next year's ballot.

"Let it go to a vote," he said. "See what happens."

Same-sex marriage literature
Literature is displayed on tables at the Minnesota for Marriage booth in St. Paul, Minn. Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

A Minneapolis voter named Joyce, who did not want to give her last name, feels just the opposite.

"I don't think there should be any restrictions in regards to the definition of marriage," she said. "It's personal and has no place in being part of legislation."

State representatives also are asking voters their opinions about everything from the recent state government shutdown, to a proposed voter ID requirement and ice fishing laws.

But state Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said most people want to know where he stands on marriage, and the amendment.

House of Representatives poll
From left, fairgoers including Paul Mandell of Inver Grove Heights and Larry Converse of Spring Valley chat with Representatives Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, and Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, at the House of Representatives state fair booth in Falcon Heights, Minn. Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2011. The House members were asking the public to fill out a poll that included questions about everything from same-sex marriage to sales taxes.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"I say I voted against the amendment," said Hansen during a shift at the booth. "We're getting folks that say, "Why is this happening? We had the budget issue and we had this focus on the amendment, why is this happening now?' That's been the number one question I've had here so far."

At the Independence Party booth, however, volunteer James "Red" Nelson said marriage hasn't been a burning issue among fairgoers he's spoken with.

"This is Minnesota," Nelson said. "They don't pry into other people's business. Let them do what they want."

The Independence Party, the DFL and the Green Party have all come out against the amendment. All three will host events at the fair for Minnesotans United for All Families, a group that supports marriage equality for gays and lesbians.

The Minnesota Republican Party doesn't promote a position on the marriage amendment at its booth, and a spokeswoman said the party has no plans to do anything with it during the fair.

But the Republican-controlled legislature passed the constitutional ballot question in May.

That didn't give ballot groups enough time to get booths organized for this year's fair so they're borrowing turf from their allies already inside.

A pro-amendment group, Minnesota for Marriage, is receiving help from Christian talk radio station, KKMS broadcasting from a little white house inside the fairgrounds.

"While you're visiting the fair, please, stop by the Minnesota for Marriage information booth in front of Church of the Holy Childhood," an announcer asks in ads airing on KKMS.

Church of the Holy Childhood is a Catholic Church located a few blocks away from the Fairgrounds. A booth is set up on its front lawn. Foot traffic past the church was light the first morning of the fair as volunteers handed out brochures and plastic bags.

"Good morning, would you like some information on Minnesota for Marriage?" ask volunteers from Minnesotans for Marriage.

There were no long debates, as people mostly politely accepted or declined the information on their way into the fair.

Organizers on both sides hope to run their own booths inside the fair next year, just a few months before Minnesotans cast their votes on the marriage amendment.

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