ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota's proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage is history. The fight isn't over for gay marriage supporters, though. The next logical step is the actual right to marry.
Though the ban was defeated by voters Tuesday, state law still prohibits gay marriage. New Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate make it more likely that the 1997 "Defense of Marriage" law could be repealed. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who would have to approve such a change, is in favor of gay marriage.
But Dayton and Democratic legislative leaders played down that possibility Wednesday, at least in the immediate future. The likely new Senate leader, Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook, said policy changes would have to take a back seat to the state budget when the Legislature convenes in January.
"I'm not going to get into this particular or that particular," Dayton said, asked if he would sign a bill to legalize gay marriage.
Despite those cautious words, Democratic Sen. John Marty of Roseville said he'd start pushing a legalization bill as soon as the session starts.
"I just frankly don't want to keep telling people who love each other and who have committed their lives to each other that they can't get married," said Marty, a longtime supporter of gay marriage rights. "To say we can wait a little longer — we've waited too long already."
A few hundred opponents of the ban gathered in front of the Capitol on Wednesday night. Speeches at the rally dwelled more on the victory than battles ahead, but legalizing gay marriage was clearly on the crowd's mind. State Rep. Karen Clark, the Legislature's longest-serving openly gay member, said activists would meet for a Dec. 1 summit to strategize next steps.
As of Tuesday, eight states now allow gay marriage; Maine and Maryland both voted to legalize it on Election Day, and once all the votes are counted, Washington could join that list.
Tuesday's election was a major breakthrough for the cause. Minnesota was the first state ever to defeat a constitutional ban, after 30 consecutive states approved them going back more than a decade. Prior to Tuesday, gay rights activists had never won a statewide vote — the victories were the first concrete proof that national polls showing growing acceptance for gay marriage are starting to bear out in the ballot box.
Richard Carlbom, who led Minnesota's campaign against the ban, said he believed its defeat would make it more difficult to push such measures in other states.
"No one is going to buy into that strategy any longer," Carlbom said.
A one-time Democratic political operative, Carlbom also wasn't ready to endorse an immediate push for gay marriage in Minnesota. He said gay marriage supporters would need time to regroup and decide what should happen next.
"Obviously, this allows the conversation to continue," Carlbom said. "I can't tell you where that conversation will take us."
Matt Jones, a Minneapolis attorney who voted against the marriage ban, said the results of Tuesday's vote should be enough to show Democrats it's time to legalize gay marriage.
"I think there's a great chance and I'll be pushing it on my representatives," Jones said.
But even Democratic lawmakers who strongly back gay marriage rights said there are risks if the party is seen as pushing it too quickly at the Capitol.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn of Minneapolis, who has co-sponsored Marty's past bills to legalize gay marriage, said it runs the risk of alienating moderate and swing voters who think politicians are too fixated on social issues.
"One of the arguments we continually used against the Republicans is they were focusing on social issues and not economic ones," Kahn said. Still, she said, "It's something we have to do eventually."
Chuck Darrell, spokesman for the campaign that tried to pass the marriage amendment, said its defeat shouldn't be read as a mandate to legalize gay marriage.
"When you narrowly defeat the marriage amendment in a blue state, at a time when it's clear we were swimming against a powerful tide that swept the nation as well, I don't see that as a referendum on gay marriage itself," Darrell said. He added that the coalition that pushed for the amendment, made up largely of Catholic and evangelical forces, would fight any push at the Capitol.
State Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis, who is gay, said it was too soon to decide whether to immediately push to legalize gay marriage. But Dibble, 47, had a prediction about himself and his partner.
"We'll be married in Minnesota in our lifetime," he said.
Associated Press reporter Amy Forliti contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.