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Minnesota Anti-Gay Constitutional Amendment Fuels National Battle over Marriage Equality

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Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington will decide November 6 whether to recognize same-sex marriage, potentially marking the first time such marriages are legalized by popular vote. However, in Minnesota, opponents of same-sex marriage are pushing a constitutional amendment to define “marriage” as a union between a man and a woman. Thirty-two states have previously held votes on same-sex marriage, and each time voters have opposed it. Civil rights groups are organizing to defeat the ballot measure, joined by a growing number of sympathetic churches. One of the groups at the forefront of the movement for marriage equality is Minnesotans United for All Families. The Human Rights Campaign, a national group that represents lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, announced on Wednesday that it has invested an additional $200,000 in Minnesota to defeat the amendment. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has spent at least $1.1 million to oppose same-sex marriage bills. For more, we’re joined now by Minnesota state Senator Scott Dibble, who is openly gay and who helped found Minnesotans United for All Families. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in our 100-city tour in Minneapolis. Well, voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington will decide on November 6 whether to recognize same-sex marriage, potentially marking the first time such marriages are legalized by popular vote. Meanwhile, here in Minnesota, opponents of same-sex marriage hope Minnesota will become the latest state to pass a constitutional amendment defining “marriage” as a union between a man and a woman, effectively banning same-sex marriages. A “yes” vote on the Minnesota ballot would prohibit laws to legalize gay marriage. The group “Minnesota for Marriage” is spearheading efforts to pass the amendment.

MINNESOTA FOR MARRIAGE AD: Marriage as the union of a man and a woman has served society well for thousands of years. Marriage is more than a commitment between two loving people. It was made by God for the creation and care of the next generation. Marriage is an issue that should be decided by the people. Voting “yes” secures traditional marriage in the Constitution and ensures only voters can determine the definition of “marriage” in the future. Please, vote “yes” on the Marriage Protection Amendment.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, civil rights groups are organizing to defeat the ballot measure, and they’re being joined by a growing number of churches sympathetic to what they say is equality for same-sex couples. One of the groups at the forefront of the movement for marriage equality is Minnesotans United for All Families.

MINNESOTANS UNITED FOR ALL FAMILIES AD: The government isn’t telling people who they can fall in love with, so government should not be telling people who they can marry. We’re supposed to be the home of the brave, land of the free. If two people—gay, straight—commit to each other and want to take responsibility for each other through marriage, there is no reason for the government to get in the way of that. The Constitution is supposed to protect our freedom, not take it away. I’m voting “no.” Love is bigger than government.

AMY GOODMAN: Activists on both sides of the marriage amendment debate are benefiting from a last-minute infusion of cash from groups outside Minnesota. The Human Rights Campaign, a national group that represents lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, announced Wednesday it has invested an additional $200,000 in Minnesota to defeat the amendment. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has spent at least $1.1 million to oppose same-sex marriage not only in Minnesota but also in Washington, Maryland and Maine.

For more, we’re joined now by Minnesota state Senator Scott Dibble. He represents District 60, which includes portions of the city of Minneapolis here. Dibble is openly gay and married his husband, Richard Leyva, in California. However, their marriage is not recognized by the state of Minnesota. State Senator Dibble helped found Minnesotans United for All Families and has been active in promoting equal rights for LGBTQ people for decades. Democracy Now! also invited the pro-amendment group, Minnesota for Marriage, to join us on our program, but they declined our request.

State Senator Dibble, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you explain exactly what this constitutional amendment would mean?

SEN. SCOTT DIBBLE: Well, thank you very much, Amy. I’m pleased to be here, and I appreciate the invitation.

The constitutional amendment, very simply put, would place in the Constitution a limitation, you know, for the foreseeable future, on the ability of same-sex couples to get married. That’s the current state of law in Minnesota, but that would enshrine that statement in the Constitution. It would limit people’s freedom to marry. It would make it illegal to marry the person you love in Minnesota. And so, it—you know, it would be very divisive and very harmful to a lot of families.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us how this came about.

SEN. SCOTT DIBBLE: Well, we’ve been involved in this debate now for quite a while. You might be aware that my good friend Michele Bachmann, now in Congress of course, previously running for president, was in the state Senate. And when she came to the state Senate, that was her banner issue, and she really launched an effort to do as many other states had been doing at the time. This was about six to eight years ago. And we fended that off and, in fact, turned the whole conversation around fairly effectively. A lot of this was being pursued for larger electoral purposes. That was pretty obvious. And, in fact, we made a lot of gains despite their best efforts.

But then, in 2010, Minnesota experienced the same electoral outcome as was experienced across a large part of the country. And the Senate, which had been in Democratic hands for 40 years, fell into Republican-majority hands. The House also flipped into Republican-majority hands. And we have a fairly low threshold to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Minnesota, unfortunately. It’s a simple majority vote of both chambers. The governor has no authority to veto. And so, it was pretty much ramrodded through the legislature and placed on the ballot last year, actually. So we’ve been at this for about 18 months now.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play another ad that was put out by the pro-amendment, anti-same-sex-marriage group, Minnesota for Marriage.

MINNESOTA FOR MARRIAGE AD: Who should decide the definition of “marriage”? We think it should be the people, not judges or politicians. Right now there’s a court case in Hennepin County to redefine “marriage.” Some powerful legislators want to do the same thing. If they succeed, voters will have lost their say. Everyone has a right to love who they choose, but nobody has a right to redefine “marriage.” Please, vote “yes” on the Marriage Protection Amendment so that voters always have the final say.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, state Senator Scott Dibble?

SEN. SCOTT DIBBLE: Well, I actually appreciate that commercial, because it really gives us the opportunity to have this really important discussion in a very civil manner. I think the commercial itself is divisive and seeks to alarm, and we can replace some of those alarmist messages with a really civil discussion that really affirms this idea that no one is redefining “marriage” for everyone, and in fact we’re upholding the fundamental values of things we all cherish, that everyone cherishes across Minnesota, that marriage is about love and commitment and taking responsibility for each other and protecting your family, and it’s about having strong families that are the foundation of strong communities. And that has been tremendously effective in really engaging folks to really think about what really matters in our state. The other side has been talking about politics and politicians and judges and redefining, and we’re able to just simply replace a lot of that bad information with really good information to connect people to the values that they already hold dear.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us your own story, Scott Dibble?

SEN. SCOTT DIBBLE: Well, sure. I—you know, this has been difficult, I have to admit, because it is personal. And we do this work, you know, in the legislature, forming policy, developing relationships with people who have different political perspectives, so that we can have compromise and have debate and move forward on important public policies. This one cuts really, really close to the bone, though. It is a vote that my colleagues took that exclude me and my husband forever from the freedoms that we were born with, the freedoms that are guaranteed in our Constitution. So, Richard and I have been together for eight years. We got married four years ago, you know, to the congratulations and support of many of my colleagues. So, this has been—this has been a difficult journey for me, really reconciling how a number of my colleagues could take this step and take this—make this act and place this very, very hurtful amendment on the ballot.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about Frank Schubert. He is a former corporate public relations executive. He ran the $40 million push for Proposition 8 in California in 2008. Then he successfully campaigned to defeat same-sex marriage in Maine and North Carolina. Now he’s aiming to quash same-sex marriage initiatives in Maryland, in Washington state, in Maine and here in Minnesota.

FRANK SCHUBERT: What is it about homosexual marriage that requires us to abandon the idea of monogamous relationships? What is it about homosexual marriage that requires us to eliminate the interests of children from our marriage laws? What is it about homosexual marriages that forces us to forget about families and only consider the desires of the two adults involved in the relationship?

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, state Senator Scott Dibble?

SEN. SCOTT DIBBLE: Well, you know, all of these, of course, are playing up prejudice, fear, lack of familiarity, fanning the flames of intolerance. And frankly, they’re lies. And so, you know, that’s why I’m so encouraged by the campaign here in Minnesota. You know, here’s Frank Schubert coming from out of the state. He’s being paid over $300,000 just from the Minnesota campaign—Lord only knows how much money he’s making, you know, with these other three campaigns that he’s in charge of around the country—coming in and trying to tell Minnesotans what they should be doing.

But we’ve—you know, we have this campaign that’s just an amazing coalition, over 700 organizations—over 400 of those are comprised of faith communities—engaging in really one-on-one, family-to-family, worker-to-worker, you know, church-member-to-church-member conversations to completely counteract the kind of lies and distortions that Frank Schubert just told, that we’re—this is absolutely about love, commitment, responsibility. It’s about making sure that we all enjoy the freedoms that we’re guaranteed in the Constitution, that it shouldn’t be illegal to marry the person you love. This is an overreach of governmental intrusion into our personal lives. And in Minnesota, we treat everyone with dignity and respect, the way we would want to be treated ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, the tea party favorite, former Republican contender in the presidential election. Bachmann identifies as a conservative Christian, is a fierce opponent of gay marriage. She is in a tight race right now here for her congressional seat. Speaking on CBS last year, she commented on New York legalizing gay marriage and the constitutional amendment in Minnesota.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: I stand for the proposition that marriage is between a man and a woman. I think that Minnesota, for instance, this year, just about a month ago or so, passed at the legislative level the constitutional amendment to allow the people to decide what the definition of “marriage” will be, so that ballot question will be on the ballot in 2012. The people of New York came to a different conclusion. I think what we know is that, ultimately, you have all the various laws—

AMY GOODMAN: State Senator Scott Dibble? State Senator Scott Dibble?

SEN. SCOTT DIBBLE: Yes. You want me to respond to Michele Bachmann?



AMY GOODMAN: Yes, and also what this means in her own race and how—you know, how—


AMY GOODMAN: —her race is going right now, because this must very much be playing into it.

SEN. SCOTT DIBBLE: Right, right, right. Well, folks should be aware that Michele Bachmann never did exit the stage in terms of pushing this amendment onto Minnesotans. She was very, very involved in the—behind the scenes, really putting a lot of pressure on those Republican legislators to vote for this amendment to place it on the ballot, putting a lot of pressure. And of course we know how much money she’s raised for her campaign.

The truth is that the tide has changed fairly dramatically in Minnesota. I think Michele Bachmann is going to come up short in her own election this year. She has, I think, very cynically taken this issue and propelled it in a way to propel her own candidacy and her own political fortune. I think it’s the—you know, the classic grabbing onto an issue that’s divisive and that’s confusing to a lot of folks in order to improve your own fortunes. But absolutely, she is out of step with where Minnesotans are, and I think she’s going to find out very, very quickly that this isn’t—has not been very useful to her.

She, you know, herself, has a lesbian sister. And her lesbian sister has come to the capital to talk about the kind of harm that this has caused and the kind of division this has caused in Michele Bachmann’s own family. I think it’s just tragic when you think about the level of acrimony that politicians are willing to foster in order to serve a larger and different political agenda. It’s really a pity.

AMY GOODMAN: The polls right now, if the vote were to happen today, Scott Dibble, what would you expect?

SEN. SCOTT DIBBLE: I think it’s neck and neck. I think it’s going to be really about who shows up and votes. I do believe that the level of enthusiasm, the so-called intensity measure, the momentum, is on our side. I think the polls show us a little bit ahead. And that’s extremely encouraging because we came from a fairly significant deficit. We were—we were behind by some measure. But I think if the vote were held today, I think we would absolutely win, particularly if folks show up to vote who have said they’re opposed to this measure. You know, and that, of course, is a lot of young people, maybe young people who haven’t yet registered to vote or haven’t really got in the habit of voting regularly.

So this campaign is going to be really focused in these closing weeks on continuing to support that conversation with Minnesotans that this is about supporting and affirming what they already know to be true and cherish in their own lives and their own families and what they think about the democracy in which we live, and making sure that young people are fully aware of the stakes of this election, what’s at stake. And nothing less than people’s freedoms and people’s ability to marry the people they love is at stake. When you talk to young people—I’ve been doing a lot of door knocking in apartment buildings in my own district. My district turns out in droves. But there are still a lot of young people who just—just don’t vote. And so I’m in those apartment buildings, talking to those young people. We’ve got a huge presence on college campuses across the entire state. And so, I think—I think I’m confident we’re going to win, but it’s going to be hard work.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Scott Dibble, I want to thank you very much for being with us, state senator here in Minnesota which represents District 60, including portions of this city, Minneapolis. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, investigative journalist Greg Palast. Stay with us.

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