— More valuable than any poll, Minnesota lawmakers got a strong pulse of their constituents this week on gay marriage through district-by-district, town-by-town results of a vote that rejected a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
It will give some legislators cover and others concern should new legislative fronts open in the gay rights debate, including an all-out push for legalization of gay marriage.
An analysis by The Associated Press of vote patterns Tuesday identified 55 members of the incoming Legislature — a full quarter of the institution — who would be forced to choose between the prevailing tide in their party and the preference of their constituents. The data would undoubtedly be used by both sides to exert public and political pressure on a highly controversial matter.
Already, some Democrats say they plan to open a gay marriage campaign when lawmakers return to the Capitol in January. Despite reclaiming control of both legislative chambers, Democrats are sure to find squeamishness in their own ranks, especially among the 26 members from districts where voters expressed a clear preference for reserving marriage as between a man and a woman.
A case in point is Rep. Patti Fritz, a Faribault Democrat whose Rice County district backed the constitutional ban by a nearly 16-point margin. Fritz voted against putting the amendment on the ballot in 2011. Now, she hopes she won't have to deal with the topic in the next couple of years.
"When you bring up an emotional issue like that, it takes center stage and steals everyone else's air, and everything else has to take a back seat," she said.
Party leaders are sounding a cautious note. Gov. Mark Dayton, a gay marriage supporter, and the top Democrats in the House and Senate hedge on whether a push for legal gay marriage would happen soon. Democrats looking for a middle course could decide to pursue measures to expand gay rights — with domestic partner or civil union legislation — but stop short of a push for gay marriage itself.