Minnesotans should brace for a nearly year-long debate over whether the state should ban same-sex marriage.
Voters will decide the issue in a constitutional amendment question on the general election ballot in November. About 200 opponents to the amendment rallied Wednesday afternoon at the University of Minnesota Duluth urging students and others to take the issue home to discuss with friends and family over the holidays.
"I hope people get informed on the issue. I understand why they may not know right now, but that's why we need to get the word out," said Ryan Kroll, a UMD junior attending the event at Kirby Student Center. "I believe in equality. But, just as much, I believe that opinions change fast in society and that the next generation, or even my generation, may not feel so strongly against (same sex marriage). We shouldn't be making opinions like this permanent in the constitution."
UMD freshman Jill Beuning was volunteering for the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, which organized the rally, taking signatures of people pledging to vote 'no.' She also took their cell phone numbers so they could be texted in November and reminded to vote.
"It's a big belief of mine that everyone have the opportunity to get married to the person they love and that it not be part of government to tell them they can't," she said.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness and City Councilor Jeff Anderson, who is running for U.S. Congress, also urged people to vote against the amendment.
"In Minnesota, we believe in dignity, we believe in respect and we believe people can choose who to love," Ness said to the crowd, adding that it's "just plain wrong" to limit rights in a state constitution meant to guarantee rights.
Jake Loesch, a 2009 UMD graduate, said he has been a life-long Republican, including working for Republican state lawmakers, but has broken with his party on this issue. He called for a grass-roots, get-out-the vote effort on college campuses "like Minnesota has never seen."
"It's a non-partisan issue," Loesch said. "It's not about politics; it's a matter of right and wrong."
While similar constitutional efforts have passed in all 29 states where they have been proposed, Loesch predicted "Minnesota is not going to be number 30."
Several groups are gearing up to support the amendment. Minnesota for Marriage is leading the effort along with the Minnesota Family Council. And presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is a strong advocate for the amendment.
"It's going to be mostly grass-roots politics, identifying who agrees with us, making sure they are registered to vote and driving them to the polls to vote yes in November," said Chuck Darrell, communications director for Minnesota for Marriage.
He said much of the effort will be aimed at church pastors and priests to preach on the importance of the issue.
"Marriage is the fundamental building block of our society, and we have a two-pronged approach going on with politicians and activist judges to redefine what marriage is" by allowing same sex marriage, he said. "In November people will have the chance to decide for themselves."
The Catholic Church in Minnesota also strongly supports the amendment. Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba testified in May at the House Civil Law Committee in support of legislation that put the amendment question on the ballot.
"Based on God's Word given in divine revelation, we believe that marriage creates a sacred bond between spouses," Sirba testified on behalf of the Catholic bishops of Minnesota. Those spouses must be a man and woman, he noted. "We hold this to be true not only for ourselves, but for all humanity."
The Minnesota Catholic Conference, which describes itself as the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, states that the amendment "is our time to stand up and defend marriage as a unique institution that, from the beginning of human history and in every culture, is the union of one man and one woman for the propagation of the human family and the upbringing of children."
Minnesota voters appear mixed on the issue at this point, but they haven't yet faced the barrage of advertising, rallies and news stories expected over the next 11 months. Political analysts predict millions of dollars will be spent, much of it from outside the state, trying to sway voters on the issue.
Three polls taken in recent months are mixed. A Minnesota for Marriage survey found voters in favor of the amendment by a 51-40 margin. But a St. Cloud State University poll found a majority opposing the amendment, 47-44 percent with 9 percent undecided or refusing to answer.
Groups against the amendment include MPIRG, Minnesotans United for All Families and an offshoot, Duluth United for All Families. The Minnesota DFL party is opposed to the amendment, as is the Independence Party.