Minnesota voters defeated a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage — an amendment once considered a likely winner.

Opponents of the amendment suggested it helped engage voters, thus flipping the state Legislature to DFL control.

"At the end of the day, gay marriage is still illegal in the state of Minnesota, so there is still a lot of work to be done," said Vangie Castro, board chair of Gay and Lesbian Services. "But luckily, both the Minnesota House and Senate turned over to the DFL so it is a more friendly legislature. So we might get a chance to maybe put new legislation into state law, overturning current law — but that's another battle that we will probably fight at a later date."

Instead of proposing constitutional amendments, Castro said, legislators should have focused on legislation.

Instead of encouraging conservative voters, the amendments engaged those who did not want constitutional changes, she said.

Failure of the marriage amendment, Castro said, demonstrates that the tide is turning in the U.S. so that using gay marriage as a wedge issue for political purposes will no longer work.

"I'm very proud of Minnesota for voting the right way and not putting discrimination into the Constitution," she said.

"That's too bad. It's disappointing," said the Rev. Matt Fasnacht of St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Stewartville.

He said he wishes the marriage amendment had passed but "we'll still do our best to promote marriage and to protect it, and to promote the Gospel."

Republican Sen. Dave Senjem, the Senate majority leader who won re-election, said nothing about the state's two proposed amendments (both the marriage amendment and voter ID) worked — "other than the process."

"After years trying to understand where the public was on these matters," Senjem said, "the Legislature proposed the questions and the collective answer of the citizens was given."

DFL Minnesota Rep. Tina Liebling said the election results make her "even prouder to be a Minnesotan."

"The failure of the anti-marriage amendment sends a strong signal that Minnesotans welcome and value diversity," Liebling said. "I look forward to the day when no family will denied legal recognition because of gender."

Minnesota's rejection of the gay marriage ban was just one piece of a big night for gay activists and their allies nationwide.

In Maine and Maryland, voters legalized gay marriage; in Washington, a measure to do the same was leading. The wins were a resounding reversal of a 32-state winning streak for gay marriage opponents.

"This conversation doesn't end tonight. It's only just begun," said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families, which fought the gay marriage ban. "Because we beat this amendment, Minnesota is in a position to ensure that the next generation can participate in the conversation about who can participate in marriage."

Gay marriage remains illegal under Minnesota state law. The amendment would have put that prohibition in the constitution. But the outcome of the vote, and the Democratic takeover of the Legislature, is likely to initiate a push for legal gay marriage in the state.

According to exit poll data, the marriage ban was opposed by a majority of women and backed by a majority of men.

Votes were also divided by age, with voters under 50 against it by a substantial majority and those over 50 strongly in favor.

Seven in 10 voters who attend religious services, and four in five born-again or evangelical voters supported it.

The vote also split by party lines; three in four Democrats said they voted against it, and three in four Republicans backed it.

The marriage amendment mobilized thousands of volunteers and attracted more than $16 million in campaign contributions, drawing more passion than the state's presidential or Senate contests. Voters held strong opinions.

"Now it is clear how Minnesotans feel on these very important public policy issues," Senjem said. "I think that is a good thing."

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