Minnesotans won’t vote on a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage until November 2012, but the ballot campaign is already heating up. The coalition of groups supporting the ban, Minnesota for Marriage, is now distributing a series of talking points advocating against marriage equality, claiming that anyone who doesn’t support a “new definition of marriage” will be “treated under the law just like racists and bigots, and will be punished for their beliefs.” Here is a quick guide to responding to their talking points (PDF):
CLAIM: “Religious groups who have refused to make their facilities available for same-sex couples have lost their state tax exemption.”
REALITY: There’s really only one example of this, and it’s not actually an example at all because the group’s religious tax exemption was not impacted. When the Methodist Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association refused to allow a same-sex couple to have a civil union ceremony at its boardwalk pavilion, the pavilion lost its real estate tax exemption. It had been exempted under New Jersey’s “Green Acres Program,” an environmental protection effort which requires properties be accessible to all citizens.
CLAIM: “Religious groups like Catholic Charities in Boston and Washington, DC have had to choose between fulfilling their social mission based on their religious beliefs, or acquiescing to this new definition of marriage,” including being “forced to close their charitable adoption agencies.”
REALITY: Any religious charity group that has ended its services has done so voluntarily. Groups that offer services like foster care and adoption placement often receive governmental funding to support their work. They are welcome to continue to receive that money if they abide by the law and don’t discriminate against certain couples. If they refuse to offer services to same-sex couples, they may still continue operating — they just aren’t entitled to public subsidies.
CLAIM: “Whenever schools educate children about marriage, they will have no choice but to teach this new genderless institution. In Massachusetts, kids as young as second grade were taught about gay marriage.”
REALITY: In some cases, those second graders were learning about their own parents’ marriage. To not discuss same-sex families — even in states that don’t have marriage equality — is to attempt to erase them from schools and communities.
CLAIM: “Wedding professionals have been fined or harassed for refusing to participate in a same-sex ceremony.”
REALITY: The issue at stake here has little to do with marriage law; it’s a matter of non-discrimination. If someone runs a public business and refuses to provide service to a couple merely because of their sex or sexual orientation, that’s a violation of state laws prohibiting discrimination.
CLAIM: Licensed professionals put their licenses at risk if they do not treat a married same-sex couple as married.
REALITY: Concerns about license qualifications and standards should be taken up with state licensing boards and professional organizations, not through laws about how marriage is defined.
CLAIM: Those who oppose marriage equality “would be the legal equivalent of bigots” and the law will “penalize traditional marriage supporters.”
REALITY: The law punishes individuals who break laws, and nobody is attempting to legislate against thought. Minnesota for Marriage wants voters to believe that they’ll feel less guilty or self-conscious being prejudiced against same-sex couples if the law is on their side, but theirs is already the unpopular position. A majority of Americans already support marriage equality, and a majority of Minnesotans oppose a constitutional ban. Considering a majority of Americans did not approve of interracial marriage until almost 25 years after it became legal, the ban’s proponents are already incredibly behind the times.
CLAIM: “Shifting the focus of our marriage laws away from the interests of children and society as a whole… will result in the most profound long-term consequences.”
REALITY: Supporting marriage equality is a pro-children position. Children of same-sex couples benefit from the legal protections and financial security their parents access when they can marry.
The most important thing to remember is this: if the amendment does not pass next November, same-sex marriage will still not be legal under Minnesota law. The ballot initiative only addresses the question of whether discrimination against same-sex couples should be enshrined in Minnesota’s Constitution. Anyone who thinks the state’s constitution should be used to take away rights should not be in the business of making changes to it.
For an expanded discussion of this Minnesota for Marriage literature, Jeremy Hooper has also posted a debunk.