Conflict & Justice

UPDATED: Minnesota marriage amendment a tight race


A marriage equality protester stands outside the Minnesota senate chamber with a sign. An amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota is on the ballot today, and could be a very close race.


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UPDATE: The Minnesota ban on gay marriage did not pass. Voters shot down Proposition 32, which would ban gay marriage. 

Of the four marriage equality ballot initiatives voters will decide this year, Minnesota's is unique.

Instead of asking voters whether they want to allow same-sex marriage, this one asks if an amendment defining marriage should be added to the state's constitution. 

Very simply, ballots in Minnesota read, "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?"

The measure is expected to fail, but narrowly.

Funded mostly by the Catholic Church, the campaign in favor of the marriage amendment totalled close to $16 million in contributions and mobilized thousands of voters, reported the Associated Press. 

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The campaign took a markedly different path in attempting to convince voters that marriage can only be considered legal in Minnesota if it is between a man and a woman. Instead of the traditional arguments that gay marriage breaks up families and indoctrinates children, this year's campaign focused on empowering voters themselves and making sure they know that people – not legislators – make decisions about marriage.

“They’re trying to make arguments that are not going to be seen as bigotry or anti-gay,” said Kate Knutson, a professor of political science at Gustavus Adolphus College to the MinnPost. “I think it’s very effective. They may play on Minnesota’s civic culture in a way that resonates more than in other states,” Knutson added.

The strategy comes from Frank Schubert, the nation's leading anti-equality crusader, who instead of fire and brimstone, frames the debate in such a way as to sway moderate voters and put them at ease to make sure they don't feel bigoted for their voting.

He is the brain behind the anti-marriage equality initiatives in all four states (Maryland, Maine and Washington also have same-sex marriage questions on the ballot today), and was the mastermind behind California's Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage in that state before being overturned.

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“Everyone has a right to love who they choose,” says a Schubert ad now running in Minnesota, “but nobody has a right to redefine marriage.”

The New York Times reports that Schubert actually has a lesbian sister who is raising children with her partner, and has been quoted as saying he doesn't like being framed as homophobic. 

“It’s hurtful to know that many people think I dislike gays and lesbians and wish them harm," he said. 

But he is harming the LGBT community, according to a number of gay organizers and advocates around the state, by not being truthful.

Schubert's work via the National Organization for Marriage, which handles a significant amount of the contributions to block gay marriage amendments nation-wide has been accused of "twisting the truth" being "mean-spirited" and using "scare tactics" both in Minnesota and across the country. 

"While there is nothing illegal about Schubert’s strategy, this behavior highlights the type of people that are running the campaign for amendment support. Schubert could care less about having a conversation and encouraging Minnesotans to consider both sides of the issue," writes a blogger who goes by Mark and runs the site Minnesota for Equality. "He will do whatever it takes to make sure this mean-spirited amendment passes, and so far, his strategies have proven extremely successful."

Public Policy Polling reported Monday night that 45 percent of voters say they'll vote for the gay marriage ban, compared to 52 percent who oppose it.

UPDATE: The Minnesota ban on gay marriage did not pass. Voters shot down Proposition 32, which would ban gay marriage. 

For more of GlobalPost's coverage of marriage equality and other LGBT issues, check out our Special Report "The Rainbow Struggle: A Global Battle Over Gay Rights."