On the heels of a win that saw Minnesota become the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage, the same group that helped secure passage of a marriage-equality bill in the state Legislature is shifting its focus to protecting those lawmakers who made it happen.
Earlier this week, Minnesotans United announced the formation of a political action committee focused on re-electing legislators who cast "Yea" votes on same-sex marriage legislation earlier this month. Although there have been attempts to protect supportive lawmakers in other marriage-equality battleground states, the PAC is a first of its kind, and comes as marriage-equality opponents have threatened to defeat Republicans and rural Democrats who voted for the legislation.
"MN United PAC will work tirelessly to ensure that the leaders in the Legislature – Republican and Democrat – who voted yes for marriage this year have the grassroots and financial support they need to be re-elected," said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United, in a statement. "These legislators cast an important historic vote, and now it's our turn to show our appreciation and tell them that we've got their back."
The Minnesota win has been particularly sweet for marriage-equality advocates nationwide. Minnesotans United was first formed to defeat a same-sex marriage ban after the Republican-controlled Minnesota Legislature was able to bypass the governor to put an initiative on the ballot to amend the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriage. After a fierce election campaign, during which the coalition spent around $13 million, voters defeated the amendment at the ballot box on Election Day in November. In the process, they also elected Democratic majorities to both houses. On May 9, the Minnesota House of Representatives approved marriage-equality legislation with a 75-59 vote. On May 13, the state Senate followed suit with a 37-30 vote and one day later the bill was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
Now, with marriage-equality opponents vowing to elect majorities to overturn the law, advocates say the PAC is the "natural next step" for the broad coalition of organizations.
"The PAC was a way for us to say to legislators that we're not just going to roll over an be done with this," said Jack Loesch, communications director for Minnesotans United. "We're going to support you and make sure you've got the momentum and the support to get re-elected."
According to Loesch, Minnesotans United was able to learn from defeats in previous states as well as the backlash some lawmakers have faced for their pro-equality votes, to anticipate the next moves of their opposition. The PAC will raise money, among other ways, by tapping into an email list of more than 200,000.
Republicans who vote in favor of marriage equality remain the most vulnerable to primary challenges. Indeed, in New York state, only one of the four Republican senators who voted in favor of marriage equality in 2011 returned to the state capitol in Albany after Election Day in 2012.
"Voters will have their say, and it will not be pretty for Republicans who voted for gay marriage," Frank Schubert, national political director for the National Organization for Marriage, told the Star Tribune of the five Minnesota Republicans who voted for marriage equality.
Despite those threats, advocates maintain that the ambitious mission set out by Minnesotans United will be a model for future states.
"First to defeat the amendment and at the same time to elect good lawmakers, and then to mount this campaign to win the freedom to marry and now to defend it is a wonderful example of how we need to do this work in more states," said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry.
According to Wolfson, who has been involved in every state marriage battle since founding Freedom to Marry in 2003, some lawmakers will face real and serious primary challenges, but the PAC is an example of an adapting movement.
"It shows the maturation of our movement and our ability to fill the gaps to do what we need to do," Wolfson told Metro Weekly. "We have gotten better and better at longer-term public education and then added in the greater sophistication in coalitions and lobbying, and then added in electoral work and now, ratcheting it up again, our ability to defend the lawmakers who do the right thing. We are getting better and better at all of the pieces, all of the methodology, that are needed to have and to hold what we want and what we win."
[Image courtesy of Minnesotans United]