On a recent Sunday, the Minneapolis headquarters of MN United for All Families was abuzz with activity. A phone was ringing at the office reception desk. Volunteers lined cubicles making phone call after phone call to ask whether Minnesota voters supported the idea of same-sex marriage. Any phone banker will tell you it’s all about the art of conversation-a difficult and sensitive one at that.
The campaign to Vote No has less than one hundred days to go before voters head to the polls to decide whether Minnesota will join other states in limiting marriage rights by defining it as “one man and one woman.” MN United for All Families is using their grassroots efforts to organize volunteers and supporters. They’re asking folks to, “have a conversation” with someone they know who might be on the fence about this issue.
Sonya Kuznetsov says it’s about making a connection with the person on the other end of the call. MN United for All Families made more than 100,000 calls 100 days out from the elections. That’s a lot of connections.
“I tell them about my friends who are gay and lesbian-who are in committed relationships and who will want to marry someday. I ask them if they know anyone who is gay or lesbian-a co-worker, a family member, a neighbor. Once I have that connection, it’s easy to talk about such a difficult subject,” says Sonya.
Religion as a reason to oppose the amendment.
Sonya also cites religious reasons when talking with people on the other side. She’s Jewish and her temple can and would like to be able to preside over the ceremony of same-sex couples. But, if this law passes, she says, they could not. She says that’s a restriction of her religious freedom.
Phone calls are just part of the campaign strategy. Training in the art of uncomfortable conversations extends to role-playing. Two MN United volunteers reenacted a conversation one had with their grandfather about same-sex marriage for a group of would-be campaigners. Volunteers are trained to talk about gay and lesbian couple who are a part of everyone’s lives-right here in Minnesota. And perhaps, it’s just not right to tell people whom they can and cannot marry. In other words: it’s not very Minnesotan. That’s what these two volunteers expressed when they reenacted a very sensitive, personal conversation.
Volunteer Sara Dahl spoke with a woman who believed in a more European system of marriage. The woman cited her years living in Germany where marriages weren’t automatically left to the church. Couples needed to head over to civil offices to make their union officially recognized. Dahl said the caller would like to see the same thing here.
“Don’t call it marriage. Call it a union or a partnership. Leave marriage to the religious institutions, she said… she said she would most likely vote no,” said a grinning Dahl after she finished.
Phone bankers also cleared up some confusion among voters. Some thought voting yes would be voting for the right of same-sex couples to marry when in fact it is a no vote that allows it. The title given by Secretary Ritchie reads:
Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples.
The title Republican legislators originally gave to the amendment reads:
Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman.
The goal to make 100,000 calls and have 100,000 conversations is just one part of the strategy. MN United for All Families has garnered support from the state’s largest Hmong organization. The Board of Directors of the Hmong American Partnership voted to oppose the freedom-limiting marriage amendment just last month. As of late June, the organization raised $4.6 million dollars to defeat the amendment.