During their fight against the ban on same-sex marriage and for marriage equality in Minnesota, Ann Kaner-Roth’s staff would often run into her office, frazzled, with a problem — like someone else getting credit for their work.
“Why does that matter?” she would ask.
“After a while, you keep answering that same question, you realize it doesn’t. What really matters was the outcome. What really matters was thousands of families having equal treatment under the law,” said Jake Blumberg, Kaner-Roth’s friend and co-worker at nonprofit Project 515 and Minnesotans United for All Families. “She accomplished so much while caring so little about her own legacy, and in many ways that’s what makes her legacy so great.”
Kaner-Roth, a champion for LGBTQ rights, affordable child care and higher voter turnout, played a key role in blocking a 2012 ballot amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and in 2013 she helped make Minnesota the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage. After about 15 years fighting to change state policies from the outside, she started working for Minnesota’s government in 2015 as deputy secretary of state.
She died Dec. 21 of brain cancer. She was 49.
“She was a person of many talents, and over and over again in her career she dedicated her talents to projects that gave equal voice and equal dignity to as many people as she could,” said Secretary of State Steve Simon, who made her his deputy in 2015.
She spent the past three years working with him to get more people to the polls and overseeing a program that protects the addresses of voters who are domestic violence survivors.
Michael Latz, one of Kaner-Roth’s closest friends, got to know the Duluth native long before she was helping run a state office. They met in high school and he quickly bonded with Kaner-Roth, whom he described as “Type A in all caps.”
“She was a great combination of both fun and serious and strategic and a planner,” he said. When they took a yearlong trip to Africa, Asia and Israel together after college, she planned it and he followed, Latz said.
She diligently created supportive communities for her family and others, said close friend Julie Fisher. She formed a baby group with a family in her childbirth class and they met for 17 years. She also started a monthly gathering of women working in social policy and was an active member of Shir Tikvah synagogue in Minneapolis, Fisher said.
Several friends said Kaner-Roth went to unusual lengths to help people. When Blumberg applied to be executive director of a nonprofit, she was up until 3 a.m. helping him refine his cover letter. “At the end of the day, what she cared about most was her family and friends,” Blumberg said.
But she had a similar devotion to her work as executive director of Project 515 and as co-founder of Minnesotans United for All Families, Blumberg said. Before that, she led Child Care Works, an organization focused on improving child care for Minnesota families.
“She just had a very basic sense of justice and fairness,” Latz said. She was involved in her synagogue at a young age, he said, and a principle of Jewish life is to repair the world. “Ann took that with the utmost of seriousness. So that was her life’s work.”
She nonetheless found time for her other passion: theater. Latz joked that apart from the weeks she gave birth to her kids, “I really cannot think of a week she was not off to see some theater thing.”
She is survived by her husband, Marc Roth, and children Avia, Ari and Isa of Minneapolis. Services have been held.