The lead group pushing the marriage amendment has released its first television advertisements of the campaign.

Minnesota for Marriage's ads both stress the importance of fighting to preserve marriage as only the union of a man and a woman. The group argues that without the constitutional amendment, judges and legislators could change the law to legalize same-sex marriage.

"We are certain our ads will help Minnesotans understand the importance of preserving marriage in our Constitution," said John Helmberger, chairman of Minnesota for Marriage. "Our ads ask an important question: 'Who should decide the definition marriage?' Like most Minnesotans, we think it should be the people, not judges or politicians."

The ads also reflect what is emerging as the central message from amendment proponents -- that people can love and respect gays and lesbians, but still vote for the amendment.

"Everybody has the right to love who they choose, but nobody has the right to redefine marriage," said narrator Kalley Yanta, a former Twin Cities newscaster who has filmed dozens of "Marriage Minute" videos for the group.

Minnesota for Marriage will spend $750,000 to run the ads across the state. The group has more ads in the works, but campaign manager Frank Schubert declined to reveal details of the upcoming ads.

"We're not going to telegraph our next ads but there will definitely be more ads forthcoming," Schubert said.

Marriage amendment opponents began running ads more than a month ago. A recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showed the marriage amendment race is deadlocked.

The amendment "permanently singles out and excludes gay and lesbian couples from the love, commitment and responsibility that marriage brings," said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families, the group trying to defeat the amendment. "No one wants to be told it's illegal to marry the person you love."

Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044