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After House and Senate DFLers announced the introduction of their gay marriage bill on Wednesday, it didn’t take long for the reaction to make itself felt.

Gay marriage foes marshal their forces

Bill to legalize same-sex marriage reunites 2012 amendment backers

After House and Senate DFLers announced the introduction of their gay marriage bill on Wednesday, it didn’t take long for the reaction to make itself felt.

Just a couple of hours later, Republican legislators crowded into the small Capitol hearing room where Minnesota for Marriage, a pro-constitutional amendment campaign turned anti-gay marriage lobbying group, proclaimed its own campaign to defeat the bill. John Helmberger, the group’s chairman, came bearing an I-told-you-so.

“It is exactly what we warned would happen without a constitutional amendment,” Helmberger announced to a room filled with reporters and more than a dozen stern-faced Republican legislators. “And it is a huge mistake to believe the lie that the result of the November election was a mandate to legalize gay marriage.”

One by one, Republican lawmakers took to the podium to express their concerns. Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen of Glencoe claimed that scientific research had proven “there is no gay gene” and that he feared the encroachment of gay themes into school curricula if the bill passed. Sen. Dan Hall, a pastor from Burnsville, said the bill has far-reaching implications for religious freedom, particularly for nonprofits and small businesses outside of the church. “I personally will go to jail before I ever perform a marriage to homosexuals,” he said. Cambridge Sen. Sean Nienow said “a ‘no’ vote on the ballot did not equate to a vote for same-sex marriage. A ‘yes’ vote absolutely was a vote in opposition.”

The official introduction in both chambers of a bill to legal same-sex marriage has kicked off what opponents are calling a grass-roots effort to thwart the push. It’s round two for Minnesota for Marriage and Minnesotans United for All Families, the two groups that went head-to-head in the amendment campaign last fall. Minnesota for Marriage will hold a Capitol rally in the coming week to oppose gay marriage, and will ask Minnesotans opposed to the effort to start applying pressure. “This is the time for people to reach out to their legislators,” said Autumn Leva, a spokeswoman for the group.

They will once again rely on churches and religious organizations to help with the effort, although it’s unclear whether their involvement will match the marquee role they played during the amendment campaign. And while GOP legislative leaders and Minnesota for Marriage say they will not seek political retribution against Republicans who vote yes, national organizations are already promising to do so.

“There’s a lot of reasons to believe Minnesota’s public is not ready for same-sex marriage,” said Sen. Warren Limmer, the ranking Republican member on the Judiciary Committee. “Nor are they ready for the Legislature to take it upon themselves to change it at this time.”

Rural Democrats targeted by lobbying effort

Gay marriage supporters and opponents have a similar strategy as they head into a likely late-session push on the proposal: Target rural Democrats whose districts voted “yes” on the marriage ban last fall, and suburban Republicans in districts where voters rejected the amendment.

Limmer is one of those Republicans. The Senate author of the amendment two years ago, he represents Senate District 34 in the northern suburbs, an area that rejected the amendment with 53 percent of the vote in November. That’s a close margin in his district and will not change his position on gay marriage, Limmer said. But dozens of rural districts voted in favor of the amendment by large margins; in fact, 75 of 87 counties in Minnesota voted for the amendment, he said.

“We have a lot of new representatives and senators, many of them Democrats, who now represent those areas,” he said. “I caution you [in going] against the will of your public.”

Jason Adkins, spokesman for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said there is more Democratic opposition to gay marriage than there is GOP support for the effort to legalize. He said two DFL senators — LeRoy Stumpf and Lyle Koenen — are already planning to vote no. So far, only one Republican legislator, Sen. Branden Petersen, has pledged to vote yes.

“My district voted 65 percent in favor of the amendment,” Koenen said. “Part of this is about representing my district.” He said many other rural Democrats are still “considering what to do.” “For a lot of us in the caucus, the priority is still the budget and getting the deficit resolved,” he said.

As part of the lobbying effort this spring, Minnesota for Marriage will enlist the help of the same churches and religious organizations that were involved during the 2012 amendment campaign, said Adkins.

But Adkins said he could not speak to how involved churches will be this time around. That includes Minneapolis/St. Paul Archbishop John Nienstedt, who made the passage of the amendment a personal crusade last fall. Two-thirds of the $6 million raised by the pro-amendment side came from the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the Minnesota Family Council and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).

Adkins said the Catholic conference will be “discussing outreach and strategy further” now that there’s an official proposal on the table.

Republicans face political blowback

Initially, when asked if any Republican lawmakers would face political punishment from Minnesota for Marriage if they voted yes, Leva said, “We will have to see.”

Adkins quickly clarified her statement. “We will not be engaging in political battles against Republicans,” he said. “That’s the job of other organizations.”

Those other groups have already made themselves known. Just days after Petersen announced he would become the first Republican legislator in Minnesota to support the bill, NOM President Brian Brown had put out a bounty on his political future.

NOM promised to spend $500,000 against any Minnesota Republican lawmaker who planned to vote yes, and singled out the 27-year-old senator from Andover.

“Republicans like Branden Petersen don’t realize that not only is voting to redefine marriage a terrible policy, it is also a career-ending vote for a Republican,” Brown said. “NOM will do everything in our power to defeat any Republican who votes in favor of same-sex marriage.”

NOM was a major contributor to the amendment fight last fall, pumping more than $2 million into Minnesota for Marriage’s campaign coffers. In the statement, Brown pointed to NOM’s work to defeat three of the four Republican legislators who voted to legalize gay marriage in New York last year.

“NOM was instrumental in all three outcomes, funding billboards, mailers, telephone calls and grassroots activities,” the release said. “We helped take out three of those senators by repeatedly informing their constituents of their betrayal on marriage. They are now out of office. We will not hesitate to do the same thing in Minnesota.” NOM said it will also spend money to support any Democratic legislator who votes to “preserve marriage,” asking DFLers to vote with their “values” and “not what their party bosses tell them.”

Minnestoans United has tried to quash the theory that lawmakers face re-election troubles if they support gay marriage with their own research from national pro-gay marriage group Freedom to Marry and Third Way. According to their calculations, only 5 out of 196 legislators who voted for gay marriage in New York and Washington lost their re-election battles in 2012, and just three of those losses could be tied to a gay marriage vote.

Another political fund quick to attack Petersen was A Stronger Minnesota, run by former Minnesota for Marriage campaign manager Andy Parrish. In a fundraising solicitation, the group accused Petersen of “straying from traditional Minnesota values” and promised to “hold Republicans like Petersen accountable.”

But Jake Duesenberg, treasurer for A Stronger Minnesota, said the group has made no more immediate plans to go after Republicans who vote in favor of gay marriage this session.

“We don’t really want to focus as much on the marriage issue, we want to look at fiscal issues,” he said. “But our goal is to promote traditional Republican values, whether it’s a Republican or Democrat. So in a way, yes, that could come up. We have nothing planned at this time.”

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