Energized by a decisive win, marriage amendment opponents are already huddling to plot their next step, including a possible push to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.

"The conversation didn't end last night, the conversation just began," said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families, the group that led the effort to defeat the measure. "This conversation will continue for the foreseeable future."

Minnesota was part of a national wave Tuesday in which same-sex marriage supporters won dramatic victories in all four states debating marriage measures, including Maryland, Washington and Maine, which became the first state where voters opted to legalize same-sex marriage.

Marriage amendment opponents stopped Minnesota from becoming the 31st consecutive state to use a ballot initiative to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. With 47 percent of the vote, the measure fell well short of the majority needed to pass.

Minnesotans United did it by raising unprecedented sums of money, building a massive network of supporters and sparking thousands of one-on-one conversations about not limiting marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Some would like to see the giant campaign architecture morph into a movement to wipe out the state law banning same-sex marriage.

State Sen. John Marty, who has unsuccessfully pushed marriage equality at the Capitol, said he is encouraged by the new DFL control of the Legislature and plans to swiftly introduce a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage.

The Roseville DFLer said the countless conversations that occurred over the course of the campaign have created a foundation that could lead to the next step.

"I think equality is coming, and it's coming soon," said Marty, who acknowledged he probably doesn't yet have the votes in the new Legislature to pass a marriage measure.

Slow down or double down?

Marty and others in the marriage equality movement said they need to be careful to not to overplay their hand and push too soon. After spending 18 months bashing the other side for trying to inflict their marriage views on everyone else, they are leery of opening themselves to the same criticism. At the same time, they don't want to wait too long and lose momentum.

"I don't think we can let people who are being discriminated against continue to suffer while we have this nice conversation," said Marty, a veteran legislator who is married with two children.

On Wednesday, Catholic leaders said they will meet to talk about their own next steps.

"The bishops and I will confer in the coming weeks and develop a strategy for responding to the inevitable push to redefine marriage," said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm for the state's bishops.

Some marriage amendment opponents are seeking a more measured approach. They want to spend the coming months meeting with legislators to gauge their attitudes about the marriage issue and study how the amendment played in each district. They don't want to act hastily and blow a hole in their fragile coalition.

"Anything that happens needs to have an eye for the future and what we want things to look like in the next decade and beyond," said Cristine Almeida, chairwoman for Minnesotans United.

The head of the Human Rights Campaign, which was the single largest donor to Minnesotans United, said the group will play a significant role in legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota, but only if local organizations conclude that's the next step.

"We will be there at the forefront in Minnesota and in any other state where we have the opportunity to advance equality" for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. With these new victories around the nation, he said, "we are not going to slow down, we are going to double down."

Mapping the debate

The amendment's defeat does not necessarily mean Minnesotans are ready to legalize same-sex marriage.

While the metro area was a hub of amendment opposition, results show voters in large swaths of the state are firmly committed to keeping same-sex marriage illegal.

Marriage amendment advocates saw their support top 60 percent in more than half of the state's 87 counties, particularly in the central and northwestern Minnesota. Nobles and Clearwater counties were among several areas where support topped 70 percent.

Carl Nelson, president of Transform Minnesota, a network of nearly 160 evangelical churches in Minnesota, is among the evangelical leaders bracing for legislative attempts to legalize same-sex marriage.

"I think all along, those of us who supported the amendment, one of the reasons for doing so was because we knew there have been legislative attempts to legalize same-sex marriage," Nelson said. "Now that the amendment did not pass and given the strong showing by same-sex marriage supporters, in the Legislature, I would not be surprised if that goes into law next year."

John Green, a professor at the University of Akron in Ohio who studies politics and religion, said the amendment's defeat in Minnesota -- coupled with the same-sex marriage strides in Washington, Maine and Maryland -- may signal waning influence among politically active religious conservatives.

The amendment's failure is "significant for a lot of people because it would suggest that religious resources are not as influential perhaps as they were in other states." Green said. "I do think the religion angle is important here because religious conservatives have staked a lot on this amendment."

For all the measured talk by amendment opponents, they gathered on the Capitol steps Wednesday night for a spirited victory rally -- something no other campaign has done so far.

"We have much work to do," said Ann Kaner-Roth, executive director of Project 515, a marriage equality group that cofounded Minnesotans United. "We have to keep working until we achieve equal rights for all families."

Staff writer Rose French contributed to this report. Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044