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Marriage amendment motivates voters

ST. PAUL - For Elisabeth Marker, an amendment to the state's constitution that would define marriage as between a man and a woman is personal.

"I have a number of friends to whom it applies," said Marker, a data specialist from Farmington, Minn., who plans to vote against the ballot initiative this November. "I would just hate to live in a state that felt it necessary to go above and beyond the laws that are already in place to make it that much more difficult to overturn the law and to make it that much more difficult for gay and lesbian couples to get married."

Meanwhile, John Rogers, an English teacher from St. Paul, said he will vote for the amendment.

"It's about making sure that we define clear terms and that we make sure children are raised in the best environment possible, which in my experience and the experience of my family is with a mother and a father," Rogers said.

While Marker and Rogers are on opposite sides of the same-sex marriage debate, they share something in common: they both say the marriage amendment, not the presidential election, is their top reason for voting this fall.

Minnesota is known for having remarkably good voter turnout, especially in presidential election years. But organizations supporting and opposing the amendment are counting on the ballot initiative to provide an extra push to get people to the polls on Election Day.

motivated voters

Minnesota Public Radio News asked members of its Public Insight Network - MPR listeners, readers and supporters - what's motivating them to vote this year. Respondents gave a range of reasons, from the presidential election to congressional elections. Although most said they would vote anyway, nearly 40 percent of the more than 200 people who responded cited the marriage amendment as their top reason or one of their top reasons to vote.

Respondents had a variety of reasons for supporting or opposing the amendment.

"If you're willing to redefine [marriage], it's a very radical change that has no precedent in human history or at least in western human history," said David Gray of Deerwood, who supports the amendment.

Brian Lawrence, an IT manager in Mounds View, also plans to support the amendment. Although same-sex marriage is illegal in Minnesota, he said "it seems as though it's more or less on a shaky foundation. By amending the state's constitution, it makes it permanent."

Lawrence is among those unimpressed with both presidential candidates. Although he supported then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008 and is happy with the administration's record on some issues, he was turned off by Obama's recent announcement that he supports same-sex marriage.

"It is not the president's role to take a position on a social topic like that," Lawrence said.

Obama's announcement had a different effect on Joshua Newville, a recent law school graduate in Minneapolis who said he's even more inclined to support Obama when he heads to the polls to oppose the amendment.

For Newville, voting against the ballot question is an issue of civil and personal rights.

"I believe deeply in family and in love," he said. "When I care so much about that and I have such idealistic vision of family for myself and I'm simultaneously told that I can't be a full participant in that, it hurts very deeply."

Adele Hansen, a teacher in St. Louis Park, said she doesn't want to make dramatic changes to the state's constitution.

"As times change and attitudes change, you shouldn't really be amending the constitution for moral issues," Hansen said. "It's really the legal procedure. Why are we putting in these amendments to the constitution? Why aren't we trying to discuss them civilly in a legislative piece?"


Voter participation is always high in a presidential election year, but Frank Schubert, who is the campaign manager for pro-amendment group Minnesota for Marriage, said the ballot question will boost turnout among the faithful.

"A much bigger affect is motivating Bible-believing Christians who don't normally vote because they just historically don't see politics in the world of electing a candidate as something core to their duty as a Christian," he said. "But here, they now see marriage is on the ballot and that is a very different thing. They're going to turn out in large numbers."

In 2008, Schubert worked in support of an amendment to California's constitution to define marriage as between and man and a woman. He pointed to a study done in Ohio in 2004 that showed that a marriage-related ballot question drew evangelicals to the polls. While they were there, they voted to re-elect George Bush, Schubert said.

But just as the marriage amendment will draw conservative voters, it will also draw liberal voters.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, who is organizing efforts to elect Democrats to the state House, said the trend will be particularly strong in college towns.

"It's clear that younger Minnesotans don't think that enshrining a definition of marriage into our constitution makes much sense," Thissen said. "It's an issue that very much motivates them because they can't understand why government would be taking that position."

Democrats suffered from lower than usual participation in the 2010 election, and lost their majorities at the Capitol and the 8th Congressional District seat as a result, said DFL Party Chair Ken Martin. So far, Martin sees great enthusiasm for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot. He said the marriage amendment may help avoid a potential turnout problem.

"I have no doubt with the addition of the marriage amendment on the ballot that any Democrat that was thinking about staying home on Election Day is going to be motivated and enthusiastic to show up and to make sure we defeat this amendment," Martin said.


Some Minnesotans who answered the MPR News questionnaire said they are equally passionate about a second constitutional amendment that would require voters to show photo identification to vote.

The DFL has taken note. At its nominating convention in Rochester, the party adopted two resolutions to support groups opposing the marriage and voter ID amendments. The resolutions will allow the party to spend money on get-out-the vote efforts and other activities supporting both campaigns, Martin said.

Meanwhile, TakeAction Minnesota, a group that focuses on grassroots organizing and get-out-the-vote activities, will be advocating against both amendments statewide, even in areas where the group doesn't plan to focus on specific races.

"Are we going to continue to be a state where people are welcome, people are able to live their lives and contribute to the great good? Or are we going to try to limit people's vote, limit people's ability to be with the one that they love?" asked Dan McGrath, TakeAction Minnesota's executive director. "These amendments go to the very heart of who we are as a state and how we think of ourselves as a state."