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Dale Carpenter, University of Minnesota Law School (left) and Nancy Haas, Messerli & Kramer (right)
Dale Carpenter, University of Minnesota Law School (left) and Nancy Haas, Messerli & Kramer (right)

Attorneys of the Year: Nancy Haas and Dale Carpenter

Legal team for Minnesotans United for All Families

Thousands of people in Minnesota organized to help pass Minnesota’s marriage equality law in 2013. But much of the credit for the measure’s success at the Capitol goes to the Minnesotans United for All Families coalition and its legal team, led by University of Minnesota Law School professor Dale Carpenter and Nancy Haas, a shareholder at Messerli & Kramer.

Haas “quarterbacked” the efforts of 13 lobbyists and managed the direction of the legislative campaign, while Carpenter was instrumental in drafting the bill and educating lawmakers about what the legislation did and did not do.

The lobbying push began just months after voters defeated a ballot measure that would have changed the state’s constitution to say marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Haas and Carpenter’s team deftly parlayed momentum from that historic defeat into a legislative victory for gay marriage in Minnesota.

Haas says securing bipartisan support for the bill required much more than casual discussions in the halls of the capitol.

“These conversations were much more personal, and took more time,” said Haas. “They took place in offices and in more private settings because [the issue of gay marriage] was so personal for [lawmakers].”

Haas says Carpenter, an early organizer of Minnesotans United, participated in many of those conversations. She praised Carpenter as a consistent legal scholar on gay marriage who was respected by politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Carpenter says the bill’s success ultimately came down to several provisions protecting religious liberty. They include: a clarification that only “civil” (not religious) marriage was affected; a guarantee that no religious official would have to perform a wedding he or she objected to; and assurance that no church would have to change its doctrine or allow its facilities to be used for weddings.

“I think including those protections reassured legislators that we’re really defending freedom for everyone: for same sex couples and for those who object on religious grounds,” said Carpenter.

Both Haas and Carpenter say they’re grateful to have been part of a team that made Minnesota the 12th state in the country to approve same sex marriage.

Carpenter, who has long been an advocate for gay rights, says it was gratifying for him to be in a time and place where his legal experience and expertise helped make a difference.

“It was thrilling, exciting, anxiety-inducing, terrifying and gratifying,” said Carpenter. “It was the most important thing I have done in my life in the political or public policy [arena].”

For Haas, the experience is best described by her sense of awe when she stood on the steps of the state Capitol on May 14, 2013, the day Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill into law.

“I remember looking out at the thousands of people who showed up that day and thinking that all of them were my clients and I had won on their behalf,” said Haas. “It was an overwhelming experience to positively change so many people’s lives.”

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