Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Congressional Quarterly pointed out yesterday that the National Organization for Marriage -- the prominent national group working to prevent gay marriage -- is getting involved in the Minnesota governor's race. That makes sense because if there's one governor's race in the country where the result will determine the fate of a gay marriage bill, it's Minnesota's.
State Rep. Tom Emmer, the Republican nominee, opposes gay marriage. All of the candidates in the Democratic primary support it. So, we'll have a general election matchup between two candidates on different sides of the issue.
In that way, Minnesota won't be unique. The same thing will be true in New York, California, Iowa and probably several other states. But, in New York gay marriage won't become legal unless the makeup of the New York Senate changes. In Iowa, as long as Democrats keep control of the state legislature, gay marriage likely will stay legal. In California, the matter is out of the hands of elected representatives. Prop. 8 is the law of the land unless voters change their minds.
The difference in Minnesota is that I suspect the only reason the state hasn't legalized gay marriage already is that Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty opposes it. Democrats enjoy majorities of around 2-1 in both houses of the legislature. Both houses of the legislature have been willing to pass other gay rights legislation. Gay marriage has broad enough support among Minnesota Democrats that even when there were 10 Democrats in the race for governor, they all favored same-sex marriage. Gay rights advocates are optimistic enough that they will soon be able to legalize same-sex marriage legislatively that many of them prefer that approach to a judicial strategy.
That said, even in Minnesota it's not as though the governor's race will determine the fate of gay marriage all by itself. Democrats probably would need to keep reasonably comfortable majorities in both houses of the legislature too. In 2006, Democrats won huge legislative gains in Minnesota, second only to their gains in New Hampshire. Unlike in New Hampshire, Minnesota Democrats sustained those gains in 2008. There's a case to be made that the state legislature is due for a correction toward the Republicans.
Still, if a Democrat is winning the governor's race that correction probably won't be all that large. That would set up the state to legalize gay marriage in 2011.
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