Marriage amendment campaigns square off at State Fair

Visiting a kiosk
Tom Hill and his wife Judith Julig of Minneapolis, Minn. visit the Minnesota United for all Families kiosk at the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights, Minn. Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The political season has kicked into high gear at the Minnesota State Fair, which offers candidates and advocates a chance to meet voters just 10 weeks before the November election.

One of the biggest questions on this year's ballot is a constitutional amendment that would effectively ban same-sex marriage — an issue that has those on both sides of the debate squaring off down the street from one another in two new booths at the fair.

Opponents of a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as only between a man and a woman staged their first event Thursday just outside the fair.

With the iconic gates to the fairgrounds in the background and amendment supporters singing the gospel song "This Little Light of Mine," more than 100 clergy leaders gathered to show their opposition to an amendment.

Rabbi Harold Kravitz of Adath Jeshurun Congregation said one view of marriage shouldn't be enshrined in the Minnesota Constitution. State law prohibits same-sex marriage.

"I'm a rabbi of a conservative synagogue in suburban Minnetonka," Kravitz said. "Our congregation has been grappling with this issue respectfully and thoughtfully for at least 30 years. Many of us have come to believe it's time to expand the canopy of marriage to same-gendered couples who want to make that significant commitment."

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Kravitz and the other religious leaders at the event are part of Minnesotans United for All Families, the coalition opposing the amendment.

"Many of us have come to believe it's time to expand the canopy of marriage to same-gendered couples who want to make that significant commitment."

Inside the fairgrounds, Minnesotans United has its first booth at the fair, an orange and blue shack ringed by people waiting to make donations, buy T-shirts or pick up a free "Vote NO" fan on a stick.

Kathy Peterson of Edina was looking for bumper stickers.

"I'm going to give them to the people I know," Peterson said. "My kids already have them. As we get closer to the election I want as much visibility on the issue as possible. I think Minnesota has an opportunity to show the rest of the country how to vote on this issue. I don't think it's the government's business who we marry."

Voters in 31 other states have approved constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, and Peterson hopes Minnesota will be different.

A half-block away on the same street, marriage amendment supporters have their booth. This time they're not under the chairlift where pranksters bombarded them with glitter last year.

Autumn Leva, a spokeswoman for Minnesota for Marriage, a group that supports the amendment, said fair-goers are signing Marriage Protection Pledge forms and entering their marriage proposal contest.

"We're right here by the Kidway. We have the 'she said yes' contest going on and the winning story gets a romantic dinner for two paid for by Minnesota for Marriage," Leva said. "We've been able to address their comments and concerns. It's been great so far!"

Dean Munson of Chokio, Minn., signed the pledge.

"Marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "If you got morals and you got values, that's just how it is. That's the way the country was set up and I just believe that's the way it should be."

But for every petition signed and button given out, the Minnesota for Marriage booth also seemed to attract a number of comments from those who disagree.

Two teenage girls made their opposition clear as their mom, Debbie Landry of Princeton, Minn., signed the "vote yes" pledge. Landry was undeterred.

"I just feel it should be one man, one woman," Landry said. "Bottom line."

Her 15-year-old daughter, Alexis Oldakowsky, feels differently.

"I don't think we should interfere with other people's lives," she said.

Landry's other daughter, 13-year-old Alyssa Oldakowsky, also said she supports same-sex marriage.

Dona Peterson, the girls' aunt, and Landry's sister make it three-against-one in the group. Peterson said they've had the conversation before.

"I took her daughters to the gay pride parade and she had a very big issue and she didn't like that either!" Peterson said with a laugh.

Landry disagreed.

"Oh, I didn't care!" she said. "I just teased them."

The sisters will cancel each other's votes on the marriage amendment, and the girls can't vote yet. Nobody's mind is changed.

"There's no persuading me," Landry said.

"There's no persuading me either," said her older daughter.

Marriage amendment supporters and opponents have 11 more days inside the gates to do all the persuading they can with Minnesota voters.