Sunday’s release of the Star Tribune poll tells us what we’ve known for a long time about the effort to defeat the amendment to limit the freedom to marry in Minnesota: it’s going to be close. 49% support the amendment, 47% oppose, within the margin of error of the poll and in recount territory.
However, the numbers that should frighten supporters of the Vote No campaign are those to a second question the Minnesota Poll asked, “If same-sex couples are not allowed to marry, do you support or oppose allowing civil unions that would grant the same legal status as marriage?” Respondents said:
Why should it worry us? After all, it shows that Minnesotans across the political spectrum are fair-minded and want people to share in equality. Even 50% of respondents planning to vote “yes” agreed with civil unions, as did 55% of Republicans.
The reason it should worry us because we know from other states that our opponents use this strong belief in fairness as a ruse to fool voters into thinking they can both be fair and preserve the sanctity of marriage.
Don’t believe me? Check out this ad, one of the closing arguments the Vote Yes on Question 1 Campaign used in the 2009 referendum that put a ban on same-sex marriage into that state’s Constitution:
All the Archbishop’s Men on Civil Unions: Not So Much
Why is this on the ballot? Was Minnesota clamoring for it? No. Ideology was behind it, and money was behind it. And the same forces that aligned to put this ban on same-sex marriage into our Constitution are just as adamantly opposed to civil unions.
The ideology of cultural conservatives in the Republican Party led Tim Pawlenty to reject contracts for state employees that included domestic partner benefits, something the Administration of Jesse Ventura had enacted. When he vetoed a bill that would have granted same-sex partners the right to make end-of-life decisions for their loved ones, Governor Pawlenty said: “Marriage — defined as between a man and woman — should remain elevated in our society at a special level, as it traditionally has been. I oppose efforts to treat domestic relationships as the equivalent of traditional marriage. Accordingly, I am opposed to this bill.”
Have those Republicans changed? Not a bit. If anything, they are more conservative, having run the few moderates in their party out on a rail. We’ve seen this in recent contract negotiations with state employees, where the same cultural conservatives in the GOP who put the amendment on the ballot howled at the prospect of the Dayton Administration offering domestic partner benefits in negotiations.
And now on to money—who was behind the effort to put the amendment on the ballot and who is funding the campaign to win its passage? As has been reported by MPR and others, “The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is the single largest contributor to the vote yes campaign.”
So what does the Most Reverend John Neinstedt, Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis—and the principal funder of the Vote Yes campaign—think of civil unions? According to a question and answer helpfully provided by the Archdiocese website, he’s not too fond of those either:
Some people say that they are not for redefining marriage, but they have no problem with civil unions. Is there a distinction between the two, with regard to the Church’s position?
Civil unions, in my opinion, are just a smoke screen for so-called same-sex “marriage.” In fact, so-called “marriage equality” groups have already begun opposing them, and in states where civil unions exist, such as in Washington, New Jersey and California, the movement to redefine marriage simply accelerates. There are ways of ensuring that people of the same gender have access to certain public services or privileges without redefining marriage. By contrast, civil unions are, if you will, the nose of the camel coming under the tent
He who fears camels poking under tents will oppose civil unions with the same viciousness that his divided his flock in Minnesota. And, if the Minnesotans for Marriage campaign puts out an ad such as the one we saw in Maine, the His Grace and His Flock will have funded a lie.
Minnesotans are Fair: Keep Those Conversations Going
If you know fair-minded people who might be among those represented by the poll numbers above – people uncomfortable with the idea of “marriage” but ok with civil unions – talk to them. Tell them that a yes vote will make civil unions politically difficult to impossible for years to come. There will be little political will to move a rights agenda, and, as we saw above, the same forces that put this on the ballot will only be emboldened and oppose those moves as well.
The silver lining in all of this: What these poll numbers show us is that Minnesotans are conflicted. These are not people blinded by bigotry. They want to do the right thing, and that is a good thing. Our job between now and November is to let people know that there is only one vote to make for fairness, and that is a No Vote.