Students gathered in Coffman Union on Wednesday afternoon. Like many student groups before, they were there to kick off a new group.
But unlike many others, this group was created for one special purpose — to defeat a constitutional amendment.
Students United for All Families Vote No is a student group at the University of Minnesota dedicated to fighting the upcoming amendment that would constitutionally ban same-sex marriage in the state.
The group is a student-run branch of Minnesotans United for All Families, the amendment’s primary opposing group.
The student group’s parent organization has been working for months to convince Minnesotans to vote against the amendment while proponents, like Minnesota for Marriage, have been an opposing force.
At the group’s inaugural meeting, students and other attendees crammed into a third-floor Coffman room filled with pizza and music while they heard from a prominent speaker.
Zach Wahls, a nationally known gay rights activist, spoke to the new group.
Wahls, a son of two lesbian mothers and the author of “My Two Moms,” gained attention last year when he spoke in front of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in opposition of a similar amendment in Iowa. Since then he has appeared on talk shows around the nation.
Austin White-Pentony, a freshman member of Students United said Wahls’ speech was well put together with a powerful message.
“Zach was really effective at explaining the power our generation has in this issue,” White-Pentony said. “His overall message was that we could wait 10 years for someone else to do something, but we want to look back and realize that our generation is the one that made the difference.”
A handful of students that had been active volunteers with Minnesotans United for All Families formed the student group, wishing to bring the campaign to the University.
“These young people wanted to make sure that students were getting involved,” Minnesotans United spokeswoman Kate Brickman said. “There are lots of students interested in making sure we defeat this amendment.”
Brickman said she hopes students realize what, she believes, the amendment could lead to.
“This amendment ties the hands of the younger generation forever,” she said. “As people change their minds and come to the conclusion that same-sex couples should be allowed to get married, we won’t be able to do anything about it because this amendment will have limited that freedom.”
Campaigning on campus
Students United will campaign against the amendment and push for student participation.
Jeremy Reichenberger, co-chair of the group, said it won’t only inform students about the amendment but also will stress the importance of what each vote means.
“We want to make sure young people on campus recognize what a ‘no’ vote means and what a ‘yes’ vote means,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand that voting ‘no’ is actually voting for marriage equality.”
As the semester progresses, the group will hold campaign activities like phone-banking and door-knocking in the dorms, among others. Members will also encourage students to register to vote.
Despite opposition from amendment supporters, Laura Hoffman, co-chair of Students United, is optimistic about the next two months.
“We’re all looking forward to working on campus and getting students to vote,” she said. “Defeating this amendment is huge; it can definitely be a defining moment for our generation.”