Diverse and growing coalition opposes marriage amendment

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June 18, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas

After several evenings of cold-calling voters on behalf of Minnesotans United for All Families, Mary Jordan of Fulton was starting to understand the math behind campaign phone banks: She makes about 50 phone calls a night, but only eight or so result in actual conversations.


Some of those eight voters who pick up the phone will be like her, part of a diverse and growing coalition planning to vote “no” on the so-called marriage amendment, which would change Minnesota’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman only. In maybe one or two other conversations, voters 

who might have supported the amendment seem to change their minds. And that gives Jordan hope.


“I believe in it and I believe we can do this,” said Jordan, a mother of three children with her partner of 20 years, Jeanne Witzig. Still, she added: “I think it’s going to be a hard road.”


Minnesotans United for All Families, a coalition that included 433 faith groups, nonprofits, businesses and other organizations as of June 1, aims to make Minnesota the first state to vote down a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage or civil unions. In each of 30 other states — most recently North Carolina, in May — voters approved the amendments when they appeared on the ballot.


Two Minnesota nonprofits, Project 515 and OutFront Minnesota, founded Minnesotans United for All Families in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 vote by the state’s House of Representatives approving the ballot question. But this year’s Twin Cities Pride Festival is when the campaign truly gets underway, coalition spokesperson Kate Brickman said.


“I think you are going to see us in every facet of Pride this year,” Brickman said. “… We have an entire team that’s been working on Pride for months, and we really see it as the kick-off for our campaign.”



Motivated by faith


Faith organizations were among the earliest and most fervent members of the coalition, and in June still comprised nearly one-quarter of its membership. Shir Tikvah, a synagogue in Southwest’s Lynnhurst neighborhood, was with them from the beginning, said senior Rabbi Michael Latz.


Leader of a liberal congregation that welcomes GLBT membership, Latz cast the marriage amendment debate in moral terms.


“When an issue like this is thrust before you, to not respond would be moral blasphemy, and we had to come out as a religious community saying this amendment assaults the core of our values, the core of human dignity and the core of what it means to be a Minnesotan,” he said.


James Gertmenian, senior minister at Plymouth Congregational Church in Stevens Square, said that congregation had a “long history” of support for GLBT rights, “going back to the AIDS crisis and even before,” support that included holding union services for GLBT couples “for years.”


Even so, taking a public stand on ballot issues was not a part of the Plymouth tradition. That changed this spring, when, after months of deliberation, an overwhelming majority of members voted to oppose the amendment.


Said Gertmenian: “My reading of what it means to be a faith community is not that it is neutral on issues, but that it has a point of view in the world and it needs to share that point of view.”



Good for business


Neighborhood organizations may not feel the same kind of moral imperative driving faith communities to oppose the amendment, but this spring the Stevens Square Community Organization (SSCO) became one of five in Minneapolis to join Minnesotans United for All Families. Board President Bryan Anderson said SSCO’s mission statement was clearly supportive of building and sustaining the community, “and with that comes a responsibility with an organization to support everyone involved.”


The coalition included non-profit organizations of all kinds, but the arts community was particularly well represented. Joining the Guthrie Theater, Walker Art Center and Children’s Theatre Company were many smaller organizations, like Intermedia Arts in The Wedge neighborhood.


Both the Minneapolis and St. Paul teachers’ unions were among a growing number of labor and professional groups working beside them in the coalition.


“We serve a lot of families and have a lot of employees who want to have this right,” said Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Lynn Nordgren. “… We believe this is everyone’s right, to live a full and happy and productive — and united — life.”


Even a handful of small businesses, like Butter Bakery Café in the Lyndale neighborhood, added their names to the coalition list. Owner Daniel Swenson-Klatt said he signed on for customers and staff “who are in committed relationships that could not be considered marriage” under current law.


“We’re a family place, and if I were to say just one type of families and not others, I would not be a good businessperson,” Swenson-Klatt said.


Reach Dylan at dthomas@mnpubs.com