Marriage and much more: How Minnesota's 2010 election mattered

  • Article by: WILLIAM CORY LABOVITCH
  • Updated: May 19, 2013 - 4:11 PM

Dayton’s edging Emmer, with Horner’s help, made all the difference.

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Governor Mark Dayton signed the marriage bill into law Tuesday, May 14, 2013 in front he the Capitol

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Here is a surprising hypothesis: The 2012 referendum that rejected labeling marriage as being only between one man and one woman in the state Constitution was not the real referendum that propelled gay marriage toward being legalized in Minnesota. The key vote came in 2010, disguised as a gubernatorial race.

It was a multiple contest between three candidates — Independence Party nominee Tom Horner; Republican candidate Tom Emmer, and the eventual winner, Democrat Mark Dayton. Horner and Dayton agreed on many of the wedge issues that have divided our state. Both candidates were prochoice, supported tax increases and believed in strengthening antibullying laws. Even after the election, their similarities continued to show, in support for building a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, opposition to voter ID and Wisconsin’s anti-union legislation, support for a cigarette tax increase — and when Dayton for a time proposed Horner’s sales tax expansion.

Tom Emmer shared none of these positions.

There was an additional big issue on which Horner and Dayton agreed and Emmer did not: gay marriage. If defending traditional marriage had been so important to Minnesotans, Emmer could have easily won, especially since supporters of same-sex marriage would have been split. That did happen in many areas. Emmer won in some House districts where both DFL legislators and the other statewide Democratic candidates prevailed.

It is also true that for many Minnesota Republican voters, conservative Christian values are what sends them to the polls, and this was probably why Emmer came as close as he did. This was reaffirmed last year when presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who emphasizes these values, won the state presidential caucus.

But to center-right and swing voters, Emmer was such a controversial, conservative figure from his time as a state legislator that his defense of traditional marriage wasn’t important enough to make them vote for him. Emmer was nominated by the Tea Party faction that stormed the state Republican convention in 2010. Had he been elected with a GOP Legislature, Minnesota would have become a totally different state.

Even some business groups, a group of former GOP legislators and police and firefighter groups that had supported Gov. Tim Pawlenty would not support Emmer. One such figure was former Republican state Rep. Dennis Ozment, who voted for the amendment referendum to ban gay marriage twice but endorsed Tom Horner.

In 2010, worrying about gay marriage being legalized probably was not even an issue to the majority of voters.

What I know for sure is that because Dayton barely defeated Emmer, anti-union and right-to-work legislation was thwarted, voter ID never got passed, gun laws were never loosened, thousands of state and public employees got to keep their jobs, and thousands of vulnerable adults got to keep their state health care. And on Aug. 1, gay marriage will be legal in Minnesota.

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William Cory Labovitch is a political activist in South St. Paul.

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