Washington, Minnesota marriage forces move to next causes

  • Article by: BAIRD HELEGSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 13, 2013 - 9:49 PM
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Richard Carlbom, center

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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One of the things to watch in coming months is how the energy behind the fight for and against same-sex marriage moves to other issues and campaigns.

Minnesota is still two weeks away from recognizing same-sex marriage, but campaign leaders on both sides have already either returned to their precampaign posts or taken new jobs.

Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families, has moved to a national job with Freedom to Marry to try to bring same-sex marriage to at least a dozen other states. John Helmberger, chairman of the effort to block same-sex marriage, continues his leadership role with the Minnesota Family Council.

In Washington state, where same-sex marriage has been legal for about eight months, some of the energy and brain power behind the effort to legalize gay marriage has started to turn up in new and surprising areas.

Zach Silk, campaign manager for the lead group that pushed for legalization of same-sex marriage, has pivoted his organizational and fundraising skills to the gun issue.

As in Minnesota, efforts to pass stricter criminal background checks for gun purchases failed in the last legislative session. The legislation’s failure came despite polls that show widespread public support for more background checks.

Silk is now campaign manager for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which is trying to put a question on the ballot that would ask voters whether the state should require criminal background checks for almost all firearm sales and transfers.

The group has already raised more than $1 million.

It is no surprise that the energy behind the marriage issue is already being focused in other places. That was always part of the plan.

Silk said that as supporters prepared the fight for legalization of same-sex marriage, they built an organization that included many activist groups outside of the traditional gay rights movement.

They brought along civil rights groups and other nonprofits, “partners who represented the best of Washington who could absorb that energy after the campaign.”

That energy included lists of tens of thousands of volunteers, contributors and activists who might become motivated to join other causes.

“We recognized that we were going to build this massive set of assets and they needed to go somewhere afterward,” Silk said. “It lifted all boats.”

Maggie Thompson went from being a field organizer in Washington’s same-sex marriage effort to campaign manager for Ed Murray, an openly gay state senator running for mayor of Seattle.

She said several of the people she worked with and met on the marriage issue have moved on to other social justice issues, like immigration reform.

“My hope is that these people are still paying attention, because they know it matters and they can make a difference,” Thompson said.

Joseph Backholm, director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, said he believes the fight against same-sex marriage is far from over.

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