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Next gay-marriage showdown could be in Minnesota

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Associated Press
June 28, 2011
— With New York now gearing up for same-sex weddings, the battle lines are forming for the next skirmishes over gay marriage and the most dramatic could come in Minnesota.

Gay-marriage supporters in the Land of 10,000 Lakes will be working fervently to end a 31-state losing streak at the polls and defeat a proposed amendment on the 2012 ballot that would limit marriage to one-man, one-woman unions.


It's expected to be a closely fought campaign, attracting extensive out-of-state resources.


"The other side is certainly desperate for a victory at the ballot box. We expect to be outspent," said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference and a member of the coalition supporting the amendment.


If the amendment passes, in a state viewed as politically moderate, foes of gay marriage will be able to claim that the New York Legislature's vote Friday to legalize same-sex marriage did not turn the tide nationally. Their side will have extended a winning streak dating to 1998, with opponents of same-sex marriage prevailing every time it has been put to a popular vote.


If the amendment is defeated, gay-marriage supporters will be able to make a strong case that public opinion has turned in their favor.


"These ballot measures are so expensive and so divisive," said Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota, the state's biggest gay rights group. "If we can defeat this, it sends a strong message that at some point soon these things just aren't going to be brought up at all any more."


Thirty states have passed amendments banning gay marriage, while Maine voters in 2009 overturned a bill passed by the Legislature that would have legalized the practice. Where same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and the District of Columbia it came about through court orders or legislative action, not by popular vote.


Chuck Darrell of the Minnesota Family Council, which supports the proposed amendment, said the New York vote validated the concerns of Minnesota legislators who put the ban on next year's ballot.


"Our Legislature wisely decided to let the people decide the issue of marriage not politicians," Darrell said.


Ann-Kaner Roth of Project 515, a Minnesota gay-rights group, said she and her fellow activists would take lessons from what happened in New York.


"They were able to build such a broad-based coalition: Republicans, independents and Democrats, the business community all coming out very strongly in support of equality," Kaner-Roth said. "Minnesota is really ripe for that kind of coalition-building."


The anti-amendment coalition is sure to include Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who was unable to keep the measure off the ballot but has vowed to campaign against it. He has already appeared at a fundraiser held by amendment opponents and marched in the Twin Cities gay pride parade on Sunday a first for a Minnesota governor.


Gay-marriage advocate Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, anticipates an intense struggle in Minnesota.


"Any time minority rights are put up to a majority vote, in the white-hot heat of nasty political exchanges, it's a dangerous situation," he said.


Another marriage battleground next year could be North Carolina. It is the only Southeastern state that hasn't yet approved an amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman, but the GOP-controlled Legislature may try to put such a provision on the 2012 ballot.


Republicans would need help from a few conservative Democrats to advance the measure, and would also have to keep moderate Republicans in line.


Foes of gay marriage cite surveys indicating that more than 70 percent of North Carolinians support the amendment. However, an Elon University poll in February showed more than half of the state's residents favor some form of legal recognition of same-sex couples.


"Numbers have borne out that attitudes on this issue are changing, particularly among independents," said Alex Miller of the gay-rights group Equality North Carolina.


In Maryland and Rhode Island, efforts to win legislative approval of same-sex marriage failed earlier this year. The long-term prospects in Rhode Island are unclear. But gay-rights activists in Maryland have vowed to try again next year.


"People are energized by what happened in New York and eager to work with our supporters in Maryland state government to make the same thing happen here," said Patrick Wojahn, chairman of the Equality Maryland Foundation's board of directors. His group issued a national fundraising appeal on Monday.


Republican state Delegate Don Dwyer, who coordinated opposition to the measure in Maryland, said gay-rights activists underestimated the depth of the public sentiment against same-sex marriage in the heavily Democratic state.


"The entire country expected Maryland to roll over this past session and pass the same-sex marriage bill, and that didn't happen," Dwyer said.


In Maine, when Democrats held power in 2009, the Legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, but it was overturned in a referendum that fall, 53 percent to 47 percent. With Republicans now controlling the Legislature, gay-marriage supporters are patiently exploring their options. In one campaign, they are trying to have 40,000 one-on-one conversations with voters in hopes of changing minds.


Three states Delaware, Illinois and Hawaii enacted civil union laws in recent months that extend broad marriage-like rights to same-sex couples.


Brian Selander, a spokesman for Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, said he doubts there will be any immediate push to go a step further and emulate New York.


"Considering that just two years ago it was still legal to be fired in Delaware for being gay, the fact that civil unions passed this session here is remarkable progress," Selander said. "We have not heard any plans to introduce a marriage bill."


Of all the state-level developments, perhaps the most momentous could come soon in a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on California's Proposition 8, the measure approved by voters in 2008 that bans gay marriage in the state.


If the appeals court holds Prop 8 to be unconstitutional, and the nation's most populous state joins the list allowing same-sex marriages, pressure could escalate for action by Congress or the Supreme Court.


___


National Writer David Crary reported from New York. Associated Press reporters Brian Witte in Annapolis, Md.; Glenn Adams in Augusta, Maine; Randall Chase in Wilmington, Del.,; David Klepper in Providence, R.I.; and Gary Robertson in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.



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