When Minnesotans rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have made marriage only between a man and a woman, they made the state the only one in the nation to defeat a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
For amendment opponents, that sent a strong message about what it means to be Minnesotan.
"Having the government come in and telling you who you can love is something that is absolutely counter to our sense as Minnesotans," said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families, the group that worked to defeat the amendment. "Treating neighbors the way you want to be treated is a core value. I'm just an incredibly proud Minnesotan who is so grateful that I live in a state that values my humanity."
But the vote against the amendment also was a matter of timing. Although 30 other states have passed similar ballot measures banning same-sex marriage, Minnesota bucked the trend. That's largely because of the work of Minnesotans United, the behemoth group spanning 40 offices and 28,000 volunteers.
The ballot measure received just shy of 48 percent of the vote, but it needed a majority to win.
Amendment supporters in Minnesota conceded their defeat this morning.
"We're very disappointed in the outcome, but we don't have any regret in the effort," said Chuck Darrell, communications director of Minnesota for Marriage, the group who led the "vote-yes" fight. "I think we were swimming against a powerful tide that swept the nation, and our opponents raised considerably more resources."
Carlbom said there's no doubt that some of the "no" votes came from people who aren't ready to accept same-sex marriage. But he thinks they were swayed by the outpouring of voices — from elected officials, faith leaders, business executives, regular folks — and a Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe.
"Beyond the words that he chose to use, so much of what he said connected with other straight men who are football-loving guys just like me but otherwise wouldn't connect with gay people," Carlbom said.
Minnesotans United made sure to put straight couples, including Catholic Republicans, front and center in its ad campaign. With $10 million in its war chest, the coalition paid for TV commercials. In one, a husband and wife couple noted that they had just celebrated their 13th anniversary.
"We had a gay couple live in our neighborhood, they had adopted a little son," the woman says in the ad. "They were the most wonderful neighbors. It taught all of us in our little suburban world."
Carlbom, who is gay and engaged to be married, said it was essential to rely on straight allies to persuade voters who were torn about the issue.
"We needed to make sure they saw in the commercials people they identified with," he said. "People like them, who at one time were conflicted, and had gone on a journey from maybe even being a 'yes' voter to eventually voting no."
Those no-votes came from not only DFL-strongholds in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth, but also from suburbs widely seen as Republican territory, including those in Washington and Dakota counties.
Timing also appeared to be on the side of amendment opponents. Carlbom said Minnesota went to the polls when opposition to same-sex marriage has dramatically decreased, even since the last presidential election.
"This country has moved so far on this question of who should have the freedom to marry in the last four years," he said. "I do believe the timing of this, in 2012, has a huge impact, on our ability to be the first state."
Voters in other states also demonstrated growing acceptance of gay marriage. On Tuesday, Maine and Maryland yesterday became the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote.
Washington voters also went to the polls on a similar measure, but it was still too early to call the results.
Darrell, of Minnesota for Marriage, said marriage amendment supporters will work to remain vigilant and revive what he calls a "culture of marriage" in the state. He's convinced that the other side will try to legalize same-sex marriage in the coming year.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference issued a statement today saying its position in favor of the amendment "was never 'anti' anyone,' but 'for' marriage." The group said it will continue defending the right of all children to be born into a family with a married father and mother.
Another amendment supporter, the Rev. Jerry McAfee, said he believes gay marriage is inevitable, and notes that the DFL has regained control of the Legislature.
"They took over the House and the Senate," McAfee said. "And they've got a Democratic governor. If they don't push it, that would be the surprise."
Leaders of Minnesotans United for All Families say it's too early to have that conversation. But state Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, said she'll continue the fight for same-sex marriage.
"We're not done," Clark said. "We just stopped something bad. We haven't taken the next step to really move forward. And that will be another test of whether those relationships we've built are lasting. I'm hopeful — if you want to know how I feel about it — I'm very hopeful."
In the 1990s, Clark introduced the first bill to propose legalizing same-sex marriage. It didn't stand a chance then, but she after Tuesday's historic vote, she thinks it may have better luck now.
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