MARSHALL - It's perhaps the most controversial election issue Minnesota has ever faced - the proposed marriage constitutional amendment that will come before voters Tuesday. Media coverage of the topic has ranged from Brad Pitt's donation to "Vote No" efforts, to Evangelist Billy Graham's endorsement of the amendment, to Vikings punter Chris Kluwe's outspoken support of gay marriage.
Of the 32 states where similar amendments have appeared on the ballot, all have voted to uphold marriage as the union of a woman and a man. The amendment in Minnesota would insert the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman into the state Constitution. State law currently contains that definition, but supporters of the amendment fear legislators could overturn state law at any time - an act that would be more difficult if the definition is in the Constitution.
Those against the amendment, like Sue Morton, president of the Buffalo Ridge Chapter of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), sees a victory against the amendment as a step forward for the homosexual community, hoping to someday seeing legal recognition of same-sex relationships become a reality. And she believes the vote will be a close one.
"At this point, I think it could go either way," said Morton. "I feel like with the local activities we have given to this community that we have moved it forward to this point. I think it's gonna be 50-50."
While defeat of the measure would not change state law, it would be looked at as a major symbolic victory and a sign of progress for the gay community. The marriage ban would still be in effect and would still deny same-sex couples who consider themselves married in all but name the same protections and privileges as legally married couples.
"It makes a statement, if it should fail, that people are becoming more understanding or accepting of all people and their humanness, exclusive of their sexuality, and that sexuality really is not the defining factor in people's lives," said Jan Knieff, a member of the PFLAG board of directors.
Morton said there are even larger ramifications if the amendment passes. She worries about what passage of the amendment would tell younger people who are gay - what message it would send.
"It is a little easier for people to come out now, but if the amendment passes, what does that say to all those young people in Minnesota," she said. "They're so vulnerable; what would it say to them? It'll say, 'We're gonna rank our citizens in this state, and you're down here, you're on the bottom, you don't count.' That breaks my heart."
Knieff said some of the feedback she's received has come from parents and grandparents who don't feel comfortable making decisions for future generations.
"A lot of people I've talked to say they don't want this in the Constitution because they don't want to speak for their children, they don't want to speak for their grandchildren," said Knieff. "People who are self aware know it's very difficult to change the Constitution, they're saying, 'I don't want this as an amendment to the Constitution because I don't want to make that decision for my children or my grandchildren.'"
Morton said she has had many discussions with people of the Catholic faith who are torn over which way to go. Some are struggling between honoring their religious beliefs and voting for something they believe limits one's rights as an American citizen.
"They are people who believe in justice and rights and freedom for all, yet there's the Bible," she said. "This is such a conservative community, but we also have people that have non-conservative thoughts and ideas who will probably vote no who would never say that out loud or demonstrate that. We have people that tell you they're gonna vote no, but when it comes down to it, they can't bring themselves to do it."
Knieff said it's not just the biblical aspect that is influencing people.
"We hear more, 'My pastor' or 'my priest' says ," Knieff said. "It's the fear, I think, of defying the priest or the pastor."
Morton said in conversations she has had with both gay and straight people, the principle surrounding changing the Constitution in general has come up many times. She said people are so focused on a "yes" or "no" vote that the act of amending the Constitution is almost lost. She said the Constitution should provide rights and protect people, not take rights away or prevent people from having rights.
Efforts made by the Independent to speak with church representatives on this issue were unsuccessful.