Minnesota state Sen. Branden Petersen is poised to be the first GOP co-sponsor of a marriage equality bill — and the National Organization for Marriage is ready to punish him for it.
Petersen, who intends to break with his party and support same-sex marriage in the state, has said that he is more “concerned about doing the right thing” than playing politics and will “let the chips fall where they may” come reelection. But NOM has pledged $500,000 to stack the deck against the senator and any other GOP lawmaker who endorses equal marriage for gay couples.
In a blog post on Monday, NOM wrote (emphasis mine):
“Republicans like Branden Petersen don’t realize that not only is voting to redefine marriage a terrible policy, it is also a career-ending vote for a Republican,” said [NOM president] Brian Brown. “NOM will do everything in our power to defeat any Republican who votes in favor of same-sex marriage. Legislators need look no further than what happened to GOP Senators in New York. Four of them were responsible for passing gay marriage. We helped take out three of those Senators by repeatedly informing their constituents of their betrayal on marriage. They are now out of office. We will not hesitate to do the same thing in Minnesota.”
Brown later goes on to boast of NOM’s use of “funding billboards, mailers, telephone calls and grassroots activities” in their effort to defeat three of the four New York senators who voted in favor of marriage equality, saying, euphemistically, they were “removed from politics.” But he might want to fact-check those “wins” for NOM: Two of the three senators were replaced by Democrats who support same-sex marriage, one dropped out of the election partly due to a lawsuit he had filed against a local homeowner.
Nonetheless, marriage equality remains a difficult sell for Republicans. The Associated Press recently reported that, nationwide, in the eight times that state legislatures voted on gay marriage, just 47 Republicans broke with their party to support the measure. Of those 47 Republicans, only 21 are in office today. And while election outcomes are determined by a number of factors, there is no doubt that the GOP losses are partly due to organizations like NOM putting their financial muscle behind punishing lawmakers who vote with their conscience.
Even as public support for marriage equality grows, conservative organizations continue to target GOP senators who break the party line. “It was largely responsible for my loss,” Jean White, a former Republican state senator in Colorado, told the Associated Press. White’s 2011 vote for civil unions was used against him in a primary challenge by a fellow Republican, but the campaign against him didn’t originate in Colorado. Instead, it was a Virginia-based conservative group that mailed fliers showing two men kissing and the copy: “State Senator Jean White’s Idea of ‘Family Values?’” in a successful effort to unseat him.
Regardless, Petersen is ready for the fallout, even if it means losing his seat: “They are generally not single-issue voters,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “But if push came to shove and that’s the way it had to be, then I am fine with that.”
In a bizarre twist, NOM closed its blog post with a call for lawmakers to “vote their values” and not “what their party bosses tell them.” Strange advice coming from an organization that is waging war against a senator for doing precisely that.