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Gay-rights activists ready to fight amendment

Gary Anderson put his arm around Gary Boelhower as the latter of the Duluth Garys led a simple gay-rights cheer.

"Just be fair," a few hundred chanted under Boelhower's leadership Thursday in front of the Minnesota Capitol.

"We pull our weight," he told the crowd. "We pay our taxes."

To the Garys, the issue is simple: Gays should be treated no differently than other Minnesotans.

But the Duluth couple and others who gathered in chilly weather, at times punctuated by snow, know they have an uphill climb since Republicans control the state Legislature and most Republicans oppose gay marriage.

Anderson said he is devoting every spare minute, and even rearranging professional time, to fight an attempt to amend the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriages.

Chuck Darrell of the Minnesota Family Council and the National Organization for Marriage said a majority of Minnesotans wants to vote on whether the state should define a marriage as between a man and a woman. The groups hope lawmakers allow that to happen in the November 2012 election.

A constitutional amendment would bypass the most powerful opponent to a gay-marriage ban: Gov. Mark Dayton.

The Democrat on Thursday made the first appearance of a sitting governor at the annual gay-rights rally, pledging to stand with those in the crowd to fight for equal rights.

Dayton compared the gay-rights effort to earlier fights that gave the vote to women and that improved rights to minorities. He said people should be allowed to marry who they want.

"I believe that day will come," he said.

After his speech, Dayton told reporters that he feels strongly about the gay-rights issue: "We are all equal under my God."

Before speaking, Dayton comforted Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt of Rosemount, whose son died six weeks ago in Afghan fighting. Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt was gay and his father told the crowd that the soldier was fighting for equal rights.

The soldier did not have a partner, his father said, but he doubted a gay partner would have received the $100,000 given to parents after a combat death. And the partner also likely would not have been granted other rights the parents received, Jeff Wilfahrt said.

Anderson said he and Boelhower plan to exchange vows in July, but would like to state to recognize the marriage.

"This is a fundamental right, to marry," Boelhower added.

He said that a church can view marriage however it wishes, but the state should not limit marriage to a man and a woman.

To the couple, the issue has become a mission.

"I have changed the course of my life," Anderson said about his desire to fight the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriages.

Boelhower said his straight son, engaged to be married next year, is a Marine who "is fighting for the rights of all Americans."

With a move to the political right in last year's election, Boelhower said, it is obvious gay-rights activists will have a tough time this year. But his goal is straightforward: "What we are trying to do is move to the middle."