- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2012

Even if it is defeated, Minnesota’s gay-marriage amendment won’t help same-sex couples in the state to wed — rather, it will merely stop the ban from being added to the state’s constitution, leaving in place a law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Despite this, more than $10 million has been raised by gay-marriage supporters and opponents in what may be Minnesota’s most expensive ballot issue to date.

A recent poll from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune found a near dead heat among voters, with 47 percent opposed to the amendment, 49 percent in favor, and 4 percent undecided. The polling deadlock sets the stage for a tight contest that exposes what some say may be softening views on whether government should control who can and should be allowed to legally wed.

“The fact that it is close is, to me, surprising,” observes Larry Jacobs, a political scientist who directs the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota. “While Minnesota is economically liberal-leaning, it has long been a conservative social state.”

Although the state has many large evangelical Christian churches and was among the states where the right-to-life movement was birthed four decades ago, generational changes, he said, may explain an emerging shift in attitudes.

“As we are seeing all over the country, there is very strong support for tolerance toward sexuality and to gay marriage among young people. In Minnesota, that is very clear,” Mr. Jacobs said. “There has also been a very broad coalition that has come together, including moderate Republicans and businesses.”

Among those are the well-known corporation General Mills, which has stepped up publicly to support a defeat of the marriage amendment. “This is striking and unusual,” Mr. Jacobs adds.

Despite a suggestion that indeed changes in values are occurring in Minnesota, Autumn Leva, a spokeswoman for Minnesota For Marriage, believes plenty of support remains for the measure to pass. Her organization’s polling shows them in the mid-50s, where they expected to be less than six weeks away from the Nov. 6 vote.

“I think [the poll numbers] reflect the fact that a majority of Minnesotans believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman,” she said. “Kids need a mom and a dad. Men and women are not interchangeable.”

After the state fair ended on Labor Day, her group gained thousands of new supporters who have gone through nearly 75,000 yard signs, she said. Contributions to her cause have “doubled in the last two months,” she added. “Supporters are starting to take a more public role.”

Although Minnesotans are not known for their political rancor, she says many who will vote yes on the amendment are firm in their beliefs.

“The definitions of marriage cannot co-exist,” she argued. “If marriage were to be redefined, this new genderless definition would completely replace the definition of man-woman marriage. Those who still believe in man and woman marriage would be treated as the illegal equivalent of bigots.”

Minnesota for Marriage, the key group backing passage of the amendment, has been vocally supported by many of the state’s Catholic churches. The state’s Catholic bishops have sent out letters of support to 400,000 households asking their congregations to contribute money for television ads to help counter opposition ads currently being broadcast from Minnesotans United for All Families, which has raised more than $8.2 million since 2011.

That figure is nearly three times as much as the gay-marriage opposition and represents 44,000 individual donors with 92 percent of the funding coming from people living inside Minnesota — not from outside groups.

“This is an issue that is not just important to gay and lesbian communities,” said Minnesotans United spokeswoman Kate Brickman. “Our coalition includes more than 650 political groups and businesses from across the state. They see this as a threat to religious freedom. Every Minnesotan can look at our coalition and see themselves represented. We represent all aspects of Minnesota life.”

This week, they were joined by a group of veterans and military families who have stepped up to speak out in support of the “Vote No” movement. They are calling their group Veterans United and are speaking at events around the state and in broadcast ads.

“They see this as so sad to see people who are laying their life on the line for their country, but who come home and don’t have the same simple freedoms they are protecting for everyone else,” Mrs. Brickman said.

Other outspoken opponents of the amendment include radio star Garrison Keillor of “A Prairie Home Companion,” who is auctioning off a coffee date to raise money for the cause. The “Lake Woebegon” creator will also record for the winner a voice mail message.

“I didn’t like the tone or the feeling of the constitutional amendment. It seemed punitive. It seemed unnecessary,” Mr. Keillor said in an interview with KTSP News. “Love trumps government, and government should not stand in the way of people who love each other.”

Six states and the District of Columbia allow gay couples to marry. Mr. Jacobs says while defeating the amendment won’t help gay Minnesota couples to tie the knot, it is “designed to tie the hands of future legislatures and judges.”

• Andrea Billups can be reached at andreabillups@hotmail.com.

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