Minnesotans who want to legalize same-sex marriage gathered Saturday to harness momentum from their election victory and begin their push for marriage equality in the Legislature.
“We believe we can pass marriage equality this session,” said Bee Rongitsch, an organizer for Minnesotans United for All Families, the lead group that defeated a proposed state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
More than 500 people gathered in downtown Minneapolis for a daylong summit focusing on equality and justice for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered. Along with plotting the next steps in the marriage fight, the event included seminars organizing regional leaders in the movement, panels on youth homelessness and a discussion about how the campaign has engaged communities of religious faith.
Same-sex marriage opponents say the other side is misinterpreting the election.
“Most legislators understand that the election was not an endorsement of gay marriage,” said Chuck Darrell, spokesman for Minnesota for Marriage, the group that pushed the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
He noted that many DFL legislators come from districts where voters supported the marriage amendment, which will cause them to be reluctant to push for same-sex marriage. “No matter what happens, we will work to defeat efforts to redefine marriage.”
Summit organizers plan to utilize the unprecedented campaign infrastructure that defeated the marriage amendment to put heat on legislators to pass same-sex marriage, which remains illegal in the state.
This is bound to create tension at the Capitol. Despite wide-ranging wins, the new DFL-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton don’t appear eager to push too hard on social issues that could blow their new majorities. Many political watchers say political overreach doomed Republicans over the past two years.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, has said the election was not a mandate for legislators to legalize same-sex marriage. Most DFLers focused their campaigns squarely on the budget and the economy, not the marriage issue.
At the summit, organizers passed around a detailed election spreadsheet showing districts where amendment opposition was strongest and connected it to the results of the winning legislative candidate.
While amendment opposition generally was strongest in DFL strongholds, the data showed several areas where Republicans triumphed and amendment opposition was strong.
In a Chanhassen district, 58 percent of voters rejected the amendment, but elected Tea Party favorite Cindy Pugh to the Minnesota House.
Those legislators are likely to face some of the strongest, most organized pressure to vote for a measure legalizing same-sex marriage, organizers said.
Same-sex marriage supporters in the Legislature said they expect wrenching conversations about the issue, both with advocates and legislative leaders trying to balance delicate re-election strategies.
“That’s the conversation we are going to have, certainly for months and perhaps for years,” said state Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis.
But Davnie said he hopes legislators look at recent election victories that legalized same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington to show “the arc of history” tilting their way.
Organizers warned that strong Democratic election wins shouldn’t cause activists to relent, or feel confident that same-sex marriage is on the immediate horizon.
“We cannot believe we are insiders,” said Beth Zemsky, an organizer with OutFront Minnesota, an organization promoting marriage equality. “Once we believe we are inside, we let up the pressure.”
Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United, said they will continue their statewide dialog about why loving and committed gay and lesbian couples want to marry.
“The conversation didn’t end on election night, this conversation is going to continue,” he said.