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U of M law professor Dale Carpenter’s new book claims that everything we thought we knew about a landmark 2003 Supreme Court case is wrong—and that same-sex marriage makes sense, even to Republicans

Photo by Allen Brisson-Smith

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So you don’t see your position as being at odds with a socially conservative agenda?

No, I think gay marriage is a socially conservative reform.

Do those arguments tend to win over conservatives? Give us your best one-minute pitch to fellow Republicans.

This amendment will hurt a lot of families across the state without helping any families. So it’s bad public policy. Second, it is an intrusion on individual liberty. Third, it’s an expansion of the power of government in our lives. And fourth, we’re not just talking about legislation. We’re talking about a constitutional amendment. So there ought to be a higher burden of persuasion than for ordinary legislation. And in general, we ought to use our constitution to expand human freedom, not contract it.

The Twin Cities has a reputation for gay-friendliness. In fact, just last year, The Advocate, the national gay news magazine based in L.A., declared Minneapolis “the gayest city in America.” In your opinion, is that reputation warranted?

It certainly seems like a more tolerant place, to me, than a lot of other places I could imagine.

But does that tolerance have a limit? After all, California is also known as a very tolerant place, and a marriage amendment was approved by voters there.

It’s a lesson to us. Gay-friendliness isn’t always an indicator.

We’ve learned lessons from California, one being we cannot be complacent about this. Also, the polling on this issue consistently shows that younger voters oppose these amendments. And every single year, the polling shifts further in our favor. If we would have had this vote 10 years ago, I think it would have easily passed in Minnesota. Ten years in the future, this would easily be defeated. Today, we’re in between.

You’ve said that you feel Minnesota is “on the cusp” of accepting marriage for all. What might nudge us over the edge?

Same-sex couples and their families have to be willing to talk about this issue with others—and not take for granted that the people they know will be voting “no” in November. Some people will not be on their side. But talking that out will help bring people to a “no” vote.

I think Minnesotans are quite thoughtful citizens. I really think this place is quite different from others. We have a highly educated population. We have high voter turnout and a seriousness toward public issues. I think that puts us in a better position than other states.

Let’s talk about the stakes of the Minnesota vote. We could be the first state to actually vote down a marriage amendment. Does that matter?

I think it matters. It will show that we have put together a campaign that can succeed, one that can be a model for future campaigns. It will also be a marker of how much attitudes have changed on this issue and give greater courage to political leaders to get off the fence and see that it’s actually electorally wise to oppose these amendments. And it may discourage them from being placed on the ballot in more states.

So yes, there are cultural and political dimensions to this that are potentially important. Having said that, it is one state, and there will be future battles.

Speaking of future battles, California’s Proposition 8 looks headed for the Supreme Court, which means a decision could become the law of the land.

Well, it’s not certain that Prop 8 will make it to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court doesn’t have to take any case. In fact, it rejects 99 percent of the cases it gets. If it does take the case, it’s not certain it would rule on a basis that would affect the entire country. It could only affect California. So same-sex advocates cannot rest on the hope that the great court is going to come to our rescue.

Gregory J. Scott is a regular contributor to Minnesota Monthly’s arts blog, TC Culture.

Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

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