Some Minn. Lawmakers Face Gay Marriage Conflict
ST. PAUL, Minn. - More valuable than any poll, Minnesota lawmakers got a strong pulse of their constituents this week on gay marriage through district-by-district, town-by-town results of a vote that rejected a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
It will give some legislators cover and others concern should new legislative fronts open in the gay rights debate, including an all-out push for legalization of gay marriage.
An analysis by The Associated Press of vote patterns Tuesday identified 56 members of the incoming Legislature - a full quarter of the institution - who would be forced to choose between the prevailing tide in their party and the preference of their constituents. The data would undoubtedly be used by both sides to exert public and political pressure on a highly controversial matter.
Already, some Democrats say they plan to open a gay marriage campaign when lawmakers return to the Capitol in January. Despite reclaiming control of both legislative chambers, Democrats are sure to find squeamishness in their own ranks, especially among the 26 members from districts where voters expressed a clear preference for reserving marriage as between a man and a woman.
A case in point is Rep. Patti Fritz, a Faribault Democrat whose district backed the constitutional ban by a nearly 16-point margin. Fritz voted against putting the amendment on the ballot in 2011. Now, she hopes she won’t have to deal with the topic in the next couple of years.
"When you bring up an emotional issue like that, it takes center stage and steals everyone else’s air, and everything else has to take a back seat," she said.
Party leaders are sounding a cautious note. Gov. Mark Dayton, a gay marriage supporter, and the top Democrats in the House and Senate hedge on whether a push for legal gay marriage would happen soon. Democrats looking for a middle course could decide to pursue measures to expand gay rights - with domestic partner or civil union legislation - but stop short of a push for gay marriage itself.
The AP analysis underscores how gay rights measures are dicey for both parties. Among the findings:
- 21 Republicans represent House districts where a majority of voters opposed the constitutional restriction. Another Republican is from a district almost evenly split, with ballots left blank making the difference against the measure. Several Republicans represent suburban districts west of Minneapolis where the amendment went down by nearly 20 points.
- 17 House Democrats hail from districts where the amendment had majority support, and one more is from an area where there were more "yes" votes than "no" votes but the proposal failed to muster an outright majority.
- 10 Democrats hold Senate seats in districts in which most voters favored the gay marriage ban, including six from northern Minnesota. In three, more than 60 percent wanted the ban in the constitution. It was close enough in incoming Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk’s district that blank ballots automatically counting against the amendment made the difference.
- 8 Republicans in the new Senate minority represent areas where a majority of constituents opposed the amendment, including a few by 10 percentage points or more. Two others, both from Rochester, come from 50-50 districts where voters skipping the question meant failure for the initiative.