One-on-one: Minnesota same-sex marriage debated

Marriage amendment defeat
People who voted to defeat the marriage amendment celebrated at a "United for Our Future" post-election rally Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 on the Capitol mall in St. Paul. The event was sponsored by Minnesotans United for All Families, OutFront Minnesota and Project 515. The issue of making same-sex marriage legal is now moving to the Legislature.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

The same-sex marriage debate at the Capitol is picking up steam this week.

A rally in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage is planned for Valentine's Day, and a group opposing same-sex marriage — Minnesota for Marriage — will hold its own Capitol rally later in the session. The same-sex marriage issue generated much discussion following the 2012 election in which Minnesotans voted against a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

Even though DFL legislative leaders have said they don't plan on bringing up legalization of same-sex marriage until the state's budget is done, the issue received more attention last week when DFL Gov. Mark Dayton made strong statements in support of same-sex marriage as part of his State of the State speech.

Jake Loesch of Minnesota United for All Families, which supports legalizing same-sex marriage, and Jason Adkins of Minnesota for Marriage joined MPR's Cathy Wurzer in the studio.

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Cathy Wurzer Jake, did the November vote to defeat the marriage amendment mean there's a corresponding interest in legalizing same-sex marriage?

Jake Loesch I think what we saw in November was Minnesotans completing a conversation that we'd been engaged in for almost two years. We started two years ago when Minnesota put this on the ballot and really began a conversation about what marriage means, why marriage matters, and why it's important. And when we voted in November, what Minnesotans said overwhelmingly is that we don't want to see marriage, the freedom to marry, limited in the state of Minnesota, especially in our state constitution.

So, I think you certainly see a public trend toward understanding that same-sex couples are perfectly capable of entering into a marriage as anyone else and they want to see state law changed to reflect that belief.

Wurzer But public polls show that Minnesotans supporting same-sex marriage is just a very small percentage. Are you misreading those results?

Loesch We've seen public polls go up and down throughout the whole course of the amendment campaign, and what it really is a matter of is having conversations with people you know about what marriage means and why it matters.

We're not saying overwhelmingly that 100 percent of Minnesotans are clamoring to have this happen immediately, but Minnesotans are urging their legislators to take action this session and really understand that same-sex couples deserve that same recognition. We're seeing that on the ground — overwhelming momentum of people contacting us saying, 'what can we do to make sure this happens this year?'

Wurzer Jason Adkins, what did you make of the November results and how that might reflect what happens at the Legislature?

Adkins I think Jake and his colleagues, in a hat-tip to them, they ran a skillful campaign and successfully persuaded Minnesotans that we didn't need to constitutionalize Minnesota's current definition of marriage; that it already exists in state statute and there was no threat to marriage and that the amendment was unnecessary; and that further, by enacting this amendment it would quote, "end the conversation."

Now the great irony of the whole campaign is that the marriage amendment would have included the voters of Minnesota long term in that conversation, and now Jake and his colleagues are asking the Legislature to definitively end the conversation and impose same-sex marriage on Minnesota.

Wurzer Jake, why is it important to allow same-sex couples to legally marry?

Loesch Marriage is about love, commitment and responsibility, and that's something that's a universal belief that same-sex couples and straight couples alike agree that's why they want to get married.

Now, the reason it's important to recognize those unions between same-sex couples is because they're perfectly valid and they're exactly the same relationships that straight couples have. And it's time that our state ends its practice of excluding same-sex couples from marriage simply because of who they are or who they fell in love with.

Wurzer Jason, what do you think of that?

Adkins I think marriage is much more than love and commitment. We are in many loving and committed relationships in our lives but we don't call them all marriage. And Jake wants to have a conversation about what marriage means, and I think that's important.

The question is: why is government in the marriage business in the first place? What is marriage for? Marriage is a reality that unites a man and a woman and children born from their union precisely because the individual and community benefits that relationship has.

Wurzer Is this what you mean by what you call the public purpose of marriage?

Adkins That's exactly right. What is the public purpose of marriage? Why is government in the marriage business in the first place? It's simply not to affirm the romantic preferences of any two particular adults. It's to support an institution. It's to support a relationship that binds a man and a woman and connects them to the children born from their union, because it's vital that we ensure that government supports and endorses the best context for the care and well-being of children, which are the next generation of our society.

Wurzer Jake Loesch, what do you think of that argument?

Loesch I think he's perfectly right that marriage is important, that it's an important social institution that we hold very dear, that Minnesotans care deeply about. And that's exactly why we're trying to make sure that same-sex couples can be included in marriage. Same-sex couples are perfectly capable of raising children; they have families of their own. Several thousand same-sex couples are already raising children in the state of Minnesota, and I would say if we're actually concerned about the children involved in this, we need to understand that same-sex couples have children, they're raising families, they're successful, and there's no reason that those children's families are any less valid than children who are raised in a straight household.

Wurzer You both have spent a lot of time in the trenches on this issue, and I'm curious about the politics of it. Let's talk about money and how you want to spend it in this campaign. Is it going to be a different focus than in November, when we were talking to voters? Are you going to focus on lawmakers?

Adkins I think it's important to both be speaking to lawmakers and the broader public, because obviously, politicians are political animals and they want to know what's going on in their districts, they want to know the attitudes and values of the people in their district. And so public opinion really does matter in this conversation. We want to have that rigorous public policy discussion.

It's also important to recognize that this is not a particularly partisan issue, either. There were many Democrats elected where the marriage amendment passed overwhelmingly and there were places where Republicans were elected where the marriage amendment didn't reach that 50 percent mark.

Wurzer Jake, what is your group going to be doing?

Loesch First of all, I think that's one thing Jason and I definitely agree on: This is not a partisan issue. I worked for a Republican in the state Senate before I left to work on the Minnesotans United campaign. I think that understanding that this is something that crosses political boundaries is important. But he's right. Including the public in this conversation is something we're very dedicated to, it was something we committed to in the 2012 campaign to defeat the amendment and we successfully and historically did that.

Wurzer I recall former Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem saying they had a tough time in the suburbs due to the marriage amendment. Would the battleground be the suburbs?

Adkins I think the battleground is any legislator who's on the fence on this issue. That's where the battleground is. It might be a suburban legislator, it might be a rural legislator. We just don't know. We're obviously counting noses and talking to a lot of people and having those conversations.

Loesch The battleground is the state of Minnesota. I can't tell you which exact districts are going to be targets or battlegrounds but I think you'll see a lot of conversation with suburban and rural legislators as well as inner-city, Minneapolis and St. Paul legislators.

Wurzer And this will come up in April, you think, after the budget is settled?

Loesch We understand that legislators have a lot on their plates. Every session the legislators have a lot to accomplish, and so we're respectful of that. But we're also dedicated to ensuring that marriage and the freedom to marry remains a priority this session, and so we hope to see it soon.