Grateful and tired, Minnesota marriage amendment opponents celebrate victory in DuluthA rally of campaign staffers and volunteers at Lake Avenue and Superior Street featured ubiquitous orange and blue “Vote No” signs plastered with paper saying “Thank You Duluth.”
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
Rachel Ford found her body and mind giving way while at work Wednesday morning.
“I was crying at my desk,” she said. “My heart was overjoyed.”
Ford is one of the 1,400 people across the Northland who volunteered for
Minnesotans United For All Families, the statewide campaign urging voters to “Vote No” on the marriage definition amendment on ballots Tuesday. The campaign was effective and “no” prevailed with 52 percent of the vote statewide — and by a 2-1 margin in Duluth.
Ford was keeping the celebration going in the afternoon Wednesday by joining a rally of campaign staffers and volunteers at Lake Avenue and Superior Street where the ubiquitous orange and blue “Vote No” signs were plastered with paper saying “Thank You Duluth.”
Car drivers honked emphatically and the crowd of about 40 people cheered in response. It only seemed to make sense that behind them, on the Minnesota Power Plaza, a crew was decorating the huge city holiday tree.
The vote wasn’t definitive until about 1:45 a.m. Wednesday. Ford was at the Flame Nightclub in downtown Duluth with other volunteers when word filtered through the crowd.
“We won? We won?” Ford recalled saying. “Then the whole place erupted.”
Though the constitutional amendment was defeated, state law still prohibits gay marriage. New DFL majorities in the state House and Senate make it more likely that the 1997 “Defense of Marriage” law could be repealed.
But Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL legislative leaders played down that possibility Wednesday, at least in the immediate future. The likely new Senate leader, Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook, said policy changes would have to take a back seat to the state budget when the Legislature convenes in January.
“I’m not going to get into this particular or that particular,” Dayton said, asked if he would sign a bill to legalize gay marriage.
Despite those cautious words, DFL Sen. John Marty of Roseville said he’d start pushing a legalization bill as soon as the session starts.
“I just frankly don’t want to keep telling people who love each other and who have committed their lives to each other that they can’t get married,” Marty said. “To say we can wait a little longer — we’ve waited too long already.”
State Rep. Karen Clark, the Legislature’s longest-serving openly gay member, said activists would meet for a summit Dec. 1 to strategize next steps.
Gary Anderson, one of the leaders in the “Vote No” effort in Duluth, said the tide is turning.
“I want my marriage recognized by the state,” he said at the Wednesday rally in Duluth. “And like this campaign, we’ll be thoughtful about it.”
He was referring to the approach the “Vote No” campaign decided early on, to try to have conversations with people about the amendment and to share personal stories about gay people and their families. Anderson estimates that Duluth callers reached hundreds of thousands of people.
“This is what we did,” he said. “We just kept on having conversations. That’s what we’d do in any next steps.”
If the Legislature wants a bill this year, “I’ll be lined up,” Anderson said.
“Swimming against a tide”
With Tuesday’s election, eight states will now allow gay marriage. Maine and Maryland both voted to legalize it on Election Day, and once all the votes are counted, Washington could join that list.
Minnesota was the first state to defeat a constitutional ban after 30 consecutive states approved them going back more than a decade. Before Tuesday, gay rights activists had never won a statewide vote — the victories were the first concrete proof that national polls showing growing acceptance for gay marriage are starting to be demonstrated in the ballot box.
Chuck Darrell, spokesman for the campaign that tried to pass the marriage amendment, said its defeat shouldn’t be read as a mandate to legalize gay marriage.
“When you narrowly defeat the marriage amendment in a blue state, at a time when it’s clear we were swimming against a powerful tide that swept the nation as well, I don’t see that as a referendum on gay marriage itself,” Darrell said. He said the coalition that pushed for the amendment, made up largely of Catholic and evangelical forces, would fight any push at the Capitol.
Retired Duluth teacher John Schmidt worked on the campaign for as much as 60 hours a week in the final month before the vote, Anderson said.
Schmidt said he’s seen far too many of his former students, friends and colleagues persecuted for whom they love. In retirement, he said he couldn’t stand by idly when he had taught so many students about social justice.
Schmidt said the campaign stressed integrity from the beginning and held to it through the end of the campaign. It was about conversations and talking to people about the issue, he said.
“I’m so proud of Duluth,” he said. He’s sure that any effort toward marriage equality will find an effective structure already in place here.
“What comes next is continuing to have those conversations,” Schmidt said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.