FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. (AP/WCCO) —It’s called the Great Minnesota Get-together, but this year both sides in the campaign over the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage are trying to make it the Great Minnesota Conversation.
The campaigns both for and against the amendment debuted their Minnesota State Fair booths on its opening day Thursday. The fair, expected to draw 1.7 million visitors this year, has long been a must for political candidates and caucuses as its late August and early September dates coincide with the fall campaign kicking into high gear.
“We’ve been talking about this for months and months, but for a lot of people this is when they really start paying attention to politics,” said Kate Brickman, spokeswoman for Minnesotans United for All Families, which opposes the same-sex marriage amendment.
Supporters of the traditional definition of marriage want Minnesota residents to vote yes on the amendment. If they are successful, state law’s existing ban on gay marriage would be added to the state constitution, making it tougher to overturn. Supporters of gay marriage are asking people to vote no, arguing that all committed, loving couples should be able to get married and that civil rights should not be subject to a public vote.
Both campaigns have organized, raised funds and honed messages for more than a year, ever since the Republican-controlled Legislature put it on the ballot back in May 2011. But at the State Fair, it was clear there’s still work to do in making sure Minnesota voters are aware of what’s at stake.
Brock Weaver, a restaurant server and bartender from the Minneapolis suburb of Ramsey, eyed the pro-amendment Minnesota for Marriage booth as he and his fiancée strolled by. Asked if he had decided how he would vote, Weaver said he didn’t actually know the issue was on the ballot in November.
“I knew gay marriage was already illegal in Minnesota, so I was wondering what this was about,” Weaver said. Once it was explained, Weaver — who said he is a regular voter — said he would vote against the amendment.
“I think government gets too involved in people’s lives as it is,” Weaver said. “I don’t need them legislating over personal decisions.”
Chris Laumeyer, an insurance salesman from Duluth, also walked past the pro-amendment booth without stopping to visit with volunteers. But when approached afterward, he said he’d be voting in favor.
“Legal gay marriage is a slippery slope,” said Laumeyer, who was at the fair with his wife and three children. “If you go that route, what would be the reasoning behind saying a polygamist can’t legally have 10 wives?”
Workers and volunteers at both booths — which sit only a few hundred feet apart on Cooper Avenue, along the eastern edge of the fairgrounds — said most of the people who actually approach are likely to be supporters.
Occasionally, a passer-by would grumble his or her displeasure. At the pro-amendment booth, Scott Turnquist muttered the word “bigots” as he walked past with his wife and a friend.
“I find anyone with hardline values and morals like that are narrow-minded to the point of bigotry,” said Turnquist, who lives in Maryland but is a Minnesota native and spends part of his summers at a cabin in Isanti County.
But Tim and Pat Dusbabek, a married couple from Ramsey volunteering at the Minnesota for Marriage booth, said their strong views are motivated not by hate or fear of gay people but rather hope of creating what they called the most ideal society for children.
“If the amendment would not pass and our marriage laws got overturned, the focus of marriage wouldn’t be on children but rather on adults and their needs,” said Tim Dusbabek, a retired research scientist at Medtronic.
The Dusbabeks, who are Catholic, said they got involved in the campaign after the church they attend in Elk River put out calls for volunteers. Pat Dusbabek said in most cases when she spoke to married couples at the fair, one had a strong view on the issue and the other was more apprehensive.
“We certainly have good friends ourselves who are very much on the other side of the issue,” Tim Dusbabek said. “We just agree to talk about something else.”
And not all clergy are of the same mind.
Outside the fair entrance, dozens of Minnesota clergy told the government to stay out of gay marriage. That’s church business, they said.
“There’s a question on the ballot that’s urging the government of Minnesota to choose sides. And that’s a first in the state of Minnesota…that government would choose sides: one religious interpretation over another,” said the Rev. Grant Stevenson.
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