Activists strategize on marriage

Published 9:32 am Monday, December 3, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS — More than 500 people gathered in Minneapolis this weekend to discuss strategy for legalizing gay marriage in Minnesota — and how to get enough votes to do it.

Michelle Dibblee, a discussion leader at the Equality and Justice Summit on Saturday, discussed with one group there how a grass-roots campaign to pass such legislation would work.

“We’re not close enough to win unless we move some legislators to make what for them might be a challenging decision,” Dibblee said. “To do that they need to hear from constituents and for those legislators to hear from constituents, we need to continue to organize. What we’ll be doing over the course of the next six months is helping you all to connect more deeply in your communities, particularly in those places where we think there are legislators who need constituent pressure to be moved.”

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Another participant, Ruth Larson, said it makes political sense to act now.

“We have a Democratic House, Senate and governor,” she said. “Strike while the iron’s hot.”

But Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota, the group that organized the summit, sounded a more cautious note.

“We haven’t really talked about timing,” Meyer said. “The only thing that we’ve really talked about is: How do we build enough support to really make marriage equality a reality and to make it inevitable?”

State Rep. Alice Hausman, D-St. Paul, said lawmakers cannot start real work on the next budget untilthe February revenue forecast, so they might as well take up same-sex marriage legislation in January.

“Some people say, ‘Well, that means we get off track of the budget.’ And we shouldn’t have other issues dominate,” Hausman said. “But if we don’t deal with this immediately, I would argue it’s going to dominate anyway because it hangs out there.”

Minnesota voters last month rejected a constitutional amendment that would have limited marriage to one man and one woman, but gay marriage was already prohibited under a state statute.

Many Democratic lawmakers come from districts where a majority of voters supported the amendment, and incoming House Majority Leader Erin Murphy would not say if the 2013 Legislature will take up the issue of same-sex marriage.

“I don’t think we should get ahead of Minnesotans,” Murphy said. “They didn’t really ask for this discussion to be raised two years ago when it was put on the ballot, but here we are.”

Andy Parrish, political director of Minnesota for Marriage, which led the effort to write a same-sex marriage ban into the constitution, dared Democrats to act so Republicans can respond. If Democrats choose not to have that fight, he said, they’ll disappoint many of their supporters while Republicans will continue defending the traditional definition of marriage.

“All we can do is sit and wait,” Parrish said. “You’ve got control. Now do it. Show your backbone if you have one.”