Man behind gay marriage drive seen as ’brilliant’
No single person ever became the public face of the successful drive for gay marriage in Minnesota, but the man who gets the most credit from his allies for making it happen is Richard Carlbom.
"Every war - even a war of love - needs a general, and our general is quiet, and self-effacing and brilliant," is how state Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, described Carlbom at a Capitol rally minutes after the Senate passed the gay marriage bill on May 13.
It becomes legal on Aug. 1, capping a stunning reversal on the issue set into motion in 2011 when the GOP-led Legislature put a gay marriage ban on the ballot.
Carlbom, a former small-town mayor and DFL operative who just hit 30, led the successful campaign to defeat that amendment. Minnesota was the first state to defeat a gay-marriage ban after more than 30 were successful around the country. Carlbom and the rest of the Minnesotans United campaign apparatus quickly shifted to successfully lobbying the now Democratic-controlled Legislature to legalize gay marriage.
While a stunning political victory, it’s also personal for Carlbom. In December, he and his male partner plan to get married in Minnesota.
Carlbom told Minnesota Public Radio News that he didn’t want to be subject of a profile. "I would rather not. So many others beside me made this happen," he told the station (http://bit.ly/187RWD4 ). And while at a podium in the Capitol rotunda, he turned the spotlight on others.
"Minnesota, you did it!" he shouted.
But those who worked alongside Carlbom said he proved to be the right man to defeat the amendment to ban gay marriage, which two years ago looked like it would pass based on the outcome in so many other states.
"What we saw in Richard was a really clear political thinker," said Cristine Almeida, who chaired the Minnesotans United board of directors. "(He) could cut to the chase of messaging and also really cut to the chase in terms of his decision making ability and that was really appealing to us knowing the kind of campaign we would have to run."
Carlbom wanted people from all political stripes and backgrounds to be able to contribute their talents to the campaign. Minnesotans United poured money into research and decided key messages would be love and commitment.
"These people, for the first time in their lives came to a phone bank, got trained on how to have a difficult conversation, organized their neighborhood, organized their family, organized their workplace, put a bumper sticker or lawn sign in their yard for the first time," Carlbom said. "And now, I think this is the case, they understand what it’s like to change the world, and I simply have a front-row seat."
Some opponents of same-sex marriage weren’t thrilled with the results of Carlbom’s work.
Frank Schubert, who ran the amendment campaign for Minnesota for Marriage, told MPR in an email: "His campaign won (barely) because he had vastly superior resources."
Minnesotans United had a 2-1 financial advantage in the amendment fight, and Carlbom said the lobbying campaign for the marriage bill cost more than $2 million. The National Organization for Marriage has pledged to spend $500,000 to defeat Minnesotan politicians who voted for same-sex marriage.
Carlbom’s next job will be to lead Minnesotans United’s new PAC to re-elect those lawmakers.