Hours after Colorado had legalized marijuana and three other states had approved same-sex marriages, Minnesotans watched as fractions of percentages ticked upward and downward for each county’s vote tally on a constitutional amendment proposed to ban same-sex marriage in the state.
Unlike Maine, Maryland and Washington, which all legalized gay and lesbian marriages by margin of about 4 percent, Minnesotans narrowly rejected the constitutional amendment proposed to ban same-sex marriages in the state. The votes represented the first four positive results for the gay and lesbian communities after 31 defeats in other states. While the amendment did not legalize marriage in Minnesota, it was would have defined marriage as between only one man and one woman, making it virtually impossible for proponents of same-sex marriage to overturn a 1997 law banning it in the state.
Votes favoring the amendment did climb steadily throughout the evening, resting at 49.05 percent around midnight, before steadily dropping as the remaining results of the Twin Cities-Metro area came in. By morning, 51 percent of Minnesotans had voted to reject the proposal.
“We’re very excited with the outcome,” said Joseph (Joe) Reid of St. Paul. “We knew it was close, but honestly I was afraid we would lose.” Reid’s younger brother is gay and has been in a committed relationship for roughly as long as the Reids have been married—40 years.
Reid, 73, and his wife, Sharon, 71, voted against the majority of their age group, which strongly urged passage of the amendment. Minnesota’s vote was evenly split by gender, but age played a role in the amendment’s defeat. Individuals 45 and older comprised 55 percent of voters and generally voted to pass the amendment, but those younger than 45 strongly voted no. In fact, 67 percent of voters age 18-to-29, and 59 percent of voters 30-to-44 years old were in the latter group.
Throughout the campaign, the Reids worked for votes against the amendment. They held a fundraiser in their backyard in September that raised $3,000. They posted two yard signs: “Vote No: Don’t limit the freedom to marry,” and “Another Catholic Voting No.” They used their senior citizen classes at St. Thomas University to challenge their age group and other Catholics. Reid spent hours working the Vote No phone banks, working with Minnesota clergy of varying denominations, and driving voters to the polls. Sharon wore her button proudly, using it to open conversations about the proposed amendment and sway voters one by one.
The couple’s tactics during the Vote No campaign is part of what makes the amendment’s defeat unique. All advertisements posted by Minnesotans United for All Families, which headed the campaign, were positive messages of the different forms families can take. “There was not a negative element to it,” noted Reid, “which was nice considering all the negativity in the other commercials of the campaigns.”
The Reids attribute this positivity and the campaign’s grassroots effort as a possible reason for the amendment’s defeat. Sharon said, “I think people like Joe, who worked hard, people that continued to pound the doors and use the phone might have done it.”
The campaign was one of the state’s most expensive. Minnesotans United for All Families, funding the Vote No campaign, garnered $11.2 million in mostly individual private donations. Actor Brad Pitt donated $250,000, and Minnesota celebrities like Vikings’ punter Chris Kluwe and former Gov. Jesse Ventura have appeared on Vote No television ads.
On the other side, the amendment’s proponents kept a lower profile, spending only $3.6 million. The campaign’s relatively low spending may have indicated its confidence that the amendment would pass. In the past, similar elections have demonstrated that 7 percent of voters have traditionally jumped from supporting same-sex marriage to opposing it when they vote. Minnesota for Marriage leaders reportedly counted on that jump for the amendment’s strength. Wednesday, they were thanking supporters for their efforts during the campaign.
Looking forward for Minnesota, and considering the current stance of the state legislature, Reid says he would support a campaign to overturn the 1997 same-sex marriage ban. Tuesday night, he spent an hour at the St. Paul’s River Centre ballroom, where Minnesotans United for All Families had its headquarters.
“There were a lot of happy people there,” he said.