At first I thought that opponents of giving same-sex couples a chance to legally marry had read the Minnesota political calendar wrong. The e-mail announcing a $200,000 statewide TV ad campaign by the National Organization for Marriage (an odd name for a group that is against letting people marry) arrived Tuesday -- one day after the Legislature adjourned for the year. The chance to put a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the 2010 ballot had come and gone.

But people about to spend that kind of money don't make such mistakes. It dawned on me that the anti-gay marriage group is not really trying to influence the Legislature -- at least not the current one.  It's trying to inject the gay rights issue into this fall's state election campaign, and drive up voter turnout among people who share its beliefs.  

The ads might have been prepared by GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. They feature the faces of all four of his major-party opponents -- all of whom favor extending the opportunity to legally marry to all adult couples. They also speak about a "right to vote" on the issue. No such right exists in Minnesota. On two occasions, Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional change to enactment of laws via voter initiative. Voters must approve amendments to the constitution, but they must first pass muster with the Legislature.

Public opinion about this social and cultural issue is changing rapidly, and in a direction that traditionalists resist. Their desire to halt change by pounding a constitutional stake in the ground is understandable, but likely to be futile in the long run. On matters of the heart and the conscience, laws seldom have the last word.