“Vote No”: A reflection on Minnesota’s gay rights campaign and on the national gay rights movement

Author’s Note: This is a Q&A session with Liam Mackin, a DePaul student who was a past activist for Minnesota’s “Vote No” Campaign, which was run by the organization Minnesotans United for All Families. Due in part to the efforts of this campaign and other similar movements, the Minnesota populace successfully voted down the “Minnesota Marriage Amendment,” which would have permanently banned gay marriage in Minnesota.

DePaulia: What were some of the hurdles the “Vote No” campaign endured in Minnesota? Were people in Minnesota generally responsive to the idea of marriage equality for gays?

Liam Mackin: The “Vote No” campaign was actually one of the best run and most effective campaigns I have ever seen. It was a huge honor to be able to be a part of it.

However, we faced a number of huge obstacles from the start. We were actually running quite a bit behind in the polls when the campaign first began. The Catholic Church and numerous socially conservative institutions were very vocal about their support of the amendment and put a ton of money into the campaign. If I recall correctly, the Catholic Church even sent out a DVD to all Minnesotan Catholics a couple years back, in which the Archbishop bashed gay marriage and called on Minnesotans to “defend” the institution of marriage.

We combated this in a number of ways. Minnesotans United for All Families was the largest grassroots campaign in Minnesotan political history. The sheer number of volunteers and supporters was absolutely astonishing. Orange and blue “Vote No” stickers were everywhere. It was unavoidable. I think when it came down to it, those who supported same-sex marriage just had more energy and more passion than those who opposed it.

We ran a conversation-based campaign. This basically means that the campaign dedicated most of its resources to having real, meaningful conversations with Minnesotan voters, rather than just telling people to vote one way or another. Every volunteer was encouraged to share his or her individual story about why same sex marriage is important and how it impacts him or her on a personal level. Many people I talked to were hesitant to endorse same-sex marriage because of religious reasons or because of the way they were raised; many of these people were also older voters.

Fortunately, we live in a day and age in which nearly everyone has a personal friend or family member that is openly gay. We often used these relationships to try to connect with people on an intimate level. Basically, the idea was to frame the issue not as a religious or political problem, but as an issue of personal rights. People responded to this very well. It was because of this, I think, that Minnesota was the first state to vote down a constitutional marriage amendment.

Minnesotans United also did a great job of organizing Minnesota-based businesses, such as General Mills and Target, to support their campaign, both vocally and financially. We ended up raising double the money Š—ê $12 million Š—ê than the people that supported the amendment.

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DePaulia: Could this type of campaign have been successful in other parts of the U.S.? Do you think homosexuality will become culturally acceptable in areas where it is not already culturally acceptable?

LM: I think Minnesotans United’s campaign should serve as a model for gay rights campaigns across the nation. Although it likely wouldn’t be nearly as successful in more conservative states, like Alabama or Texas, I think it’s still the right model for any state. The way to win this issue is by making it personal, by encouraging others to realize that all people, whether they are gay, straight or something in between, deserve the same basics rights as any other human being. We need to help people realize that same-sex couples are just like any other couples. They are our neighbors, teachers, family and friends, and they deserve to be treated as such.

Obviously, I wish marriage equality were a reality in all 50 states. Unfortunately, this is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. For example, could you see Oklahomans rallying around gay rights anytime soon?

However, it is important to recognize that U.S. public opinion of the issue is shifting rapidly. Remember, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed just under 17 years ago, and now a majority of U.S. citizens support same-sex marriage. We’re well on our way to equality, but that doesn’t mean our work can stop now.

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DePaulia: What are some of the other tasks that need to be accomplished before America can truly brag about LGBT equality?

LM: One thing to keep in mind is that marriage equality is not the finish line for gay rights in our nation. There are still huge hurdles ahead of us. Workplace discrimination is still huge. Only a few states have passed anti-work place discrimination legislation. You can still be fired for being gay in a majority of U.S. states. How messed up is that?

Other issues exist too. I know one transsexual guy in Missouri who can’t get his gender changed on his state ID.

School bullying is also a huge issue. LGBT students have far, far, far higher rates of attempted suicide than that of heterosexual teens.

We’re in the middle of a civil rights movement, believe it or not Š—ê there is still so much to be done. We’ve made some amazing progress in the past couple years, but before we pat ourselves on the back, we have to remind ourselves that this progress should be a catalyst for further activism rather than a finish line for gay rights. Gay power!