Both sides of the marriage amendment fight are reuniting their troops as they prepare for what is rapidly emerging as the next frontier in the battle -- a push to legalize same-sex marriage in the Legislature.

"Our intention is to make sure gay and lesbian couples have the freedom to marry after the 2013 legislative session," said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families. The group is reconfiguring its operation that defeated the proposed marriage amendment on Election Day.

At the same time, Minnesota for Marriage supporters met this week to prepare to block any effort that they say would redefine marriage.

"It's time for us to rise from last month's setback and rejoin the battle," Minnesota for Marriage chairman John Helmberger wrote Thursday in a new fundraising appeal.

Last month, Minnesota voters defeated a measure that would have added language to the state Constitution banning same-sex marriage. Minnesota became the first state to defeat such a measure, breaking a string of 30 states that affixed the bans into their constitutions.

Minnesota legislators will be wrestling with the marriage measure at a time when the issue is taking a much larger role nationally. Voters in Maryland, Maine and Washington state just legalized same-sex marriage, and now the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take a closer look at the issue, including a California same-sex marriage ban similar to the one Minnesota voters just rejected.

Minnesotans United, which raised more than $10 million to defeat the amendment, has transformed from a statewide political campaign into a coordinated Capitol lobbying effort.

Carlbom said their effort will continue what became a hallmark of their successful political campaign: a statewide conversation about whether committed gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to wed.

Same-sex marriage advocates realize many legislators, particularly new ones, could be leery about taking a lead on what has been such a divisive issue in Minnesota and nationally.

"Standing up for justice, standing up for people and standing up for freedom will be rewarded by the voters," Carlbom said. "Voters want freedom, and they punish those who try to limit freedom."

The Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, which was Minnesotans United's largest single contributor, is prepared to help again.

"There is great enthusiasm for pursuing legal recognition for our families in a diverse coalition that is representative of all Minnesotans," said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the group. "The Minnesota Legislature will soon have a historic opportunity to fulfill the wishes of the electorate and ensure that all Minnesotans are treated equally by their government."

Minnesota for Marriage supporters argue that their opponents are misinterpreting the election results and assuming that every voter who rejected the amendment automatically supports same-sex marriage. They say a good number of voters didn't agree with amending the constitution for something that was already illegal, but that sentiment is a long way from supporting same-sex marriage.

They point to election results that show voters in a large majority of Minnesota counties supported the amendment. "That means that legislators did not receive a mandate from their constituents to redefine marriage," Helmberger said.

Same-sex marriage opponents cautioned that new DFL majorities in the state House and Senate risk alienating Minnesota voters if they press the marriage issue.

"The new DFL majorities will burn enormous political capital ending the conversation and imposing same-sex marriage," predicted Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference. "It could undermine the rest of their legislative goals."

DFL legislative leaders have not rushed to embrace the idea of a divisive fight over same-sex marriage this session. They say they are focused on erasing a $1.1 billion budget deficit and overhauling the tax system, issues that they say are the reason Minnesota voters handed DFLers resounding legislative wins.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said he is not convinced that Minnesotans who voted against the amendment support same-sex marriage.

"I don't know how that is going to play out," Dayton said. "We'll have to see what the public sentiment is."

(c)2012 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)