The political group that successfully pressed state leaders to legalize same-sex marriage this year is already shifting to a new goal — ensuring the re-election of legislators who supported them.
Less than 24 hours after legalization was signed into law, Minnesotans United for All Families created a separate political-action group that intends to pour money into the campaigns of DFLers and Republicans who voted yes even though they represent districts where many constituents oppose same-sex marriage.
The move signals the next phase of a political movement that has quickly become Minnesota’s most powerful fundraising and organizational machine outside of the state Republican or DFL parties.
“These legislators cast an important historic vote, and now it’s our turn to show our appreciation and tell them that we’ve got their back,” said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United.
Minnesotans United’s next chapter sets it on a collision course with one of the country’s most powerful defenders of traditional marriage. The National Organization for Marriage has said it will spend $500,000 to defeat any Republican who voted to legalize same-sex marriage.
“Voters will have their say, and it will not be pretty for Republicans who voted for gay marriage,” said Frank Schubert, national political director for the National Organization for Marriage. He said the group “took out” legislators in other states who supported same-sex marriage and “we will do the same in Minnesota.”
Schubert vowed that Minnesota’s same-sex marriage law will be repealed once Republicans control the Capitol again.
Minnesota became a flash point in a much larger national battle over marriage over the past two years.
After making dramatic legislative gains in 2010, Republicans raced to put a measure on the ballot to forever ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota through a proposed constitutional amendment. Schubert led that effort, which ended in defeat.
Minnesotans United grew out of that fight, the creation of two of the Twin Cities’ largest gay and lesbian rights groups, which had joined forces to meet the challenge.
Avoiding the infighting that had consumed gay and lesbian groups in other states, Minnesotans United crafted a unified message that allowed it to create a brand-new donor base that raised millions of dollars and tapped supporters who had never before been involved in a political campaign.
Hints that the work would continue emerged moments after Gov. Mark Dayton signed legalization into law.
The chief Senate sponsor, Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, urged the crowd to “go out across this land, to every prairie, every town in the Northlands and prairies of the southwestern part of the state and bring that spirit of grace and love and openness. We do have it within our power to speak about the values that unite us as being so much more important than those that divide us.”
Same-sex marriage opponents say next year’s legislative election will be a rematch over marriage. They might have been outmaneuvered at the Capitol but are relying on continued opposition to same-sex marriage — particularly in rural Minnesota — to win back seats in the House and Senate.
Four Republican House members and one Republican senator voted for same-sex marriage.
Schubert said Minnesotans United’s support will taint any Republican candidate in a primary, where voters have a strong predilection toward socially conservative true believers.
“They are a bunch of leftist Democrats,” Schubert said of Minnesotans United. “How are they going to help in Republican primaries?”
Carlbom’s answer? Money.
Some of the state’s most influential business leaders — many bound to the effort through gay and lesbian children, family or loved ones — donated their time, money and influence. So did thousands of other Minnesotans.
Carlbom said they are planning to shift those donor and volunteers to organizations that will continue the fight for marriage equality.
Minnesotans United’s new political fund will spend “as much as it will take” to defend vulnerable legislators.
Some Republicans and rural DFLers who voted for legalization knew it could cost them their seat. Some are telling rattled constituents that their involvement forced a compromise to better protect religious liberty.
They think that libertarian-leaning viewpoint could be as helpful as any assistance from Minnesotans United.
“The game-changer for me was providing the religious protection,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington.
Garofalo said he believes Minnesota legislators have made their last vote on an issue that still divides the state. “I would hope no one would ever be stupid enough” to ever try to overturn same-sex marriage, he said.
Others won’t turn down assistance from Minnesotans United.
“I think 2014 is going to be a tough election anyway,” said Rep. Joe Radinovich, a Crosby DFLer who is already facing a recall effort in his conservative-leaning district. “Any help is good help right now.”
Staff writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.