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'Dakota County Votes No' Says Yes to Gay Marriage

A new organization aimed at defeating a proposed constitutional amendment banning marriage between gays and lesbians is ramping up its campaign. Statistics show they will have a fierce, but winnable, fight as Minnesota seems ripe to become the first state

Gay Marriage a Painful "Déjà Vu"

For one Dakota County couple, the struggle for "Freedom to Marry" predates the Minnesota Marriage Amendment by over four decades. 

“It’s déjà vu. This is sheer ignorance and pride—just like 45 years ago,” said Thea Harriday, an Apple Valley resident who met her husband, an African American, over 43 years ago.

At the time, less than a decade had gone by since the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in 1967 (Loving v. Virginia). 

Though Minnesota was one of a handful of states that had never enacted laws forbidding interracial marriage, the social stigma against it was strong. Harriday said her family disowned her and over 200 relatives living in the Twin Cities boycotted the wedding—an especially painful reminder of the prejudice that surrounded the young couple. Many years would go by before the Harridays' marriage was recognized in all 50 states.

After four decades, Harriday’s family has come around and many have apologized, but she doesn’t want her own daughter, a lesbian, to have to endure the same hatred and societal censure she did.

Dakota County Votes No

On Sunday, Dakota County Votes No staged its first major event at Burnsville's Presbyterian Church of the Apostles, though the movement has been quietly gaining steam since the GOP-controlled legislature pushed the measure through last year. Dakota County Votes No grew out of smaller grassroots efforts by local residents and faith groups, said Veda Kanitz, a member of Burnsville’s Open Circle Church and a science teacher at . She said Open Circle jumped into the fray after the bill was passed last year. The church hosted weekly events and staged house parties to rally against the amendment. Each week attendance grew slowly but steadily, Kanitz said, from 10 to 20 to 30 people.

“We’re holding this kickoff to energize our base, get people out to vote and start meaningful conversation about this amendment,” Kanitz said Sunday.

"You Don't Need Saving"

Kanitz said she was moved to speak because of strong family ties and a sister who is in a same-sex relationship. But also because love should not be denied.

“Why am I here? I am straight. I am married...” she told the attentive crowd of listeners. “Thirty years we’ve been married. And I believe very, very, strongly in marriage as an institution, that it strengthens families, and that having more people being allowed to marry will only strengthen our county, our state and our country.”

Kanitz said having her husband by her side as she navigated through the health care system following cancer surgery was a blessing and same-sex couples shouldn’t be denied the same opportunity of having a committed loved one at their side.

“As a teacher I want all of my students to reach their full potential, and I am very proud that Education Minnesota is a coalition partner for this movement,” she went on. “But we can not tell our LGBT students that they are second-class citizens or limit their dreams and aspirations. And we can not tell families with two moms or two dads that they are undeserving of our support. So, as a sister and as a friend, I want to tell you that I know you contribute to society in many different ways. You didn’t choose your sexual orientation and you don’t need saving.” 

A Fallen Soldier

Lori Wilfarht told the emotional story of her son, Andrew, who is believed to be the first gay U.S. soldier to die in battle following the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Andrew was killed in February of 2011 by an IED during an attack on his unit while serving in Afghanistan.

She said her son was extremely happy with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but sadly, didn’t live long enough to celebrate it.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell officially ended last year in September,” said Wilfarht. “Gay and lesbian service members can now serve openly but they are denied the same spousal benefits extended to straight couples. Medical care and housing, still denied to same-sex couples. The military is unable to fix this due to the Federal Defense of Marriage Act and military bases located in any of the twenty-nine states with constitutional amendments limiting same-sex marriage have additional complications.”

Wilfarht acknowledged the progress being made on gay and lesbian issues, but said passing an amendment in Minnesota banning same-sex marriage would fly against that progress. 

“Americans love to say that our soldiers died to protect our freedoms, yet we are so willing to deny freedoms of some citizens here at home,” she said. “And this amendment is about freedom. Freedom to marry and commit your life to the person who you love. It is such a simple thing that we all want, we all dream about. It’s something we want for our kids, we wanted it for Andrew.”

Andrew’s father, Jeff Wilfarht, is the DFL candidate for the Minnesota House District 57B seat. Wilfahrt said that the decision of the Republican Majority to pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was a driving force in his decision to run for the Legislature.

But with the issue already scheduled for the ballot, it will be the citizens who will decide the outcome in November.

Gay Marriage Ban Undefeated, So Far

At this point, public opinion seems to be split down the middle, said Kim Hansen, an Inver Grove Heights resident who serves as the regional organizing director for the south metro area.

“We know this is close and it’s going to remain close,” Hansen said. “We feel that with our strategy, which focuses on deeply relational stories, we can sway undecided voters.”

A Minneapolis Star Tribune poll in November of last year revealed a divide of 48 percent in favor of the amendment while 43 percent opposed adding the amendment. According to the article, the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent, making the issue a virtual tie with the undecided voters critical to both sides. 

If the measure is defeated here, Minnesota would be bucking a national trend.

Currently, gay marriage is legal in only six states. A total of 29 states now have language in their constitutions banning same-sex marriage and, when put on a ballot, no state has ever turned back such a measure.

Public support for defining marriage as union that can only be entered into between one man and one woman have, by and large, been defeated handily. South Dakota in 2006 (52 percent supported adopting a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages) and California’s Proposition 8 (also 52 percent) in 2008 have been the closest a ban has come to being defeated at the ballot box.

Amendment approvals in Alabama, Tennessee (both 81 percent in 2006), and Mississippi (86 percent in 2004) have been the largest landslides in the gay marriage debate.

Of the 29 state amendments on the books, an amendment banning same-sex marriages has garnered an average of 68 percent support from the public at the polls.

A Minneapolis Star Tribune poll in November of last year revealed a divide in Minnesota of 48 percent in favor of the amendment while 43 percent opposed adding the amendment. According to the article, the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent, making the issue a virtual tie.

Organizers hope to brush off previous results across the country and turn the tide against the amendment by November, when the proposal will go before Minnesota voters during the general election.

Dakota County Votes No will move into its new headquarters in Eagan this week. The group will set up shop in an office off of Cliff Road and I-35 E, at 1964 Rahncliff Road. As soon as the water is turned on, they will begin their campaign in earnest, with a phone bank on Thursday.

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Troy Thompson May 01, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Do you think Minnesota will reverse the tide of marriage ban amendments given other social advancements on LGBT issues? Or will voters here fall in line with other states' ballot boxes? Polling data shows an almost even split. Will grassroots campaigns such as 'Dakota County Votes No' be the difference maker?
Marco Luxe May 01, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Do thinking Minnesotans really want to follow the lead of Alabama and Mississippi?
Topher May 02, 2012 at 01:27 AM
“Thinking Minnesotans” would not follow anyone; they would make an informed decision, vote for what they believe to be right and not be concerned about what anyone else thinks or does.

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