Gay marriage groups feuded behind the scenes of amendment campaign

Gay marriage groups feuded behind the scenes of amendment campaign
Tracy Call and Chris Kluwe.

In the campaign against the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, not everyone saw eye-to-eye with Richard Carlbom, director for Minnesotans United for All Families.

In November 2011, a few months after the Republican-controlled Legislature voted to put the amendment on the ballot, political operative Brad Michael met with Carlbom in the Minnesotans United headquarters. Michael had been in talks with Chris Kluwe, a Vikings punter who had come out against the amendment and was willing to help with the campaign. But Carlbom wanted nothing to do with Kluwe, says Michael. "He actually said, 'Well, you know he's just a punter.'"

SEE ALSO: Richard Carlbom on making same-sex marriage a reality

Carlbom has a different recollection of the meeting. He recalls being hesitant to take immediate action, but says he didn't dismiss the idea completely. "Christ, I was a long snapper in college football; I never disrespect the punter," he says.

Michael ended up joining forces with marketing guru Tracy Call and forming a splinter group fighting against the amendment, called Minnesotans for Equality. The organization operated on the belief that there was a middle-ground, a Libertarian-minded sliver of Minnesotans who could still be persuaded by someone like Kluwe -- a professional athlete with notoriety in the music and video gaming worlds. Unlike Minnesotans United, their message was based on civil rights, and the extreme nature of an amendment of exclusion to the state's Constitution.

Even though they were fighting to the same end, Call says Carlbom and his group viewed them as bitter rivals, working to suppress them instead of alongside them. Call and Michael describe a vicious, personal battle between the two groups. On multiple occasions, says Call, Minnesotans United accused her group of ruining their chances of defeating the amendment, and ordered them to stand down.

"Instead of seeing Minnesotans for Equality and me as an ally, and an additive voice in the battle, Richard really ended up just bullying and trying to block us from speaking out," says Call. "Dealing with him was just one of the most disrespectful experiences of my professional life. And personal life."

Carlbom admits there was disagreement between the two groups, but says both sides participated in the feuding. He says it was imperative that everyone stay on the same message throughout the campaign, and his research showed that civil rights rhetoric was not effective.

"What we saw was that using the civil rights language and the equality language and the Constitution language -- to keep it out of the Constitution -- was tried in state after state," he says. "And we had failed, over and over again."

Carlbom acknowledges that Kluwe made a significant impact on the vote. Toward the end of the campaign, Carlbom eventually did recruit Kluwe to help out, but Call says the two groups never mended their contentious relationship.

"It was a nasty behind-the-scenes political turf war," says Call. "And it was like this invisible turf. There was no turf. We all were on the same page."

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