MINNEAPOLIS - Tents sprouted like mushrooms around the pond in Loring Park as preparations began for the annual Twin Cities Pride Festival.
The 2-day festival is celebrating its 40th year, having grown to become the 3rd largest pride event in the nation.
"The Twin Cities Pride Festival, each year, draws more than 350,000 people from all across the state," said Kate Brickman, spokesperson for Minnesota United for All Families.
Her group is a main opponent of the amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution that would define marriage as only between a man and a woman. Same sex marriage is already illegal in Minnesota, but the amendment would place the ban in the state's founding document.
"The people who attend the festival are really those who are going to be most hurt by the proposed amendment," added Brickman. "We will have hundreds of volunteers working with our staff as well as the Minnesota and local leaders who will be canvassing the people at Pride for donations, to get them to pledge to vote no, to get them to sign up to volunteer, to really get them involved in any way that they are interested in."
Minnesota for Marriage, which is supporting the amendment, indicated Friday that they were not planning any events at the same time as the festival. According to published reports, supporters of the amendment have raised more than $1.5 million dollars, while gay rights supporters have raised more than $4 million for efforts to defeat the amendment.
The highlight of the Twin Cities Pride Festival has become the parade on Hennepin Avenue, which is now the largest parade in Minnesota. The line of march steps off at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
"Last year, we had a few brave service people who came out in the parade," said Dot Bessler, CEO of Twin Cities Pride.
The repeal of the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military has changed the feelings of many in uniform. Even the Pentagon took note of Gay Pride Month in 2012.
"This year, I think, we are having quite a few service members in the parade," said Bessler. "You know, Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt, who lost their son, Andrew, an openly gay soldier, last year, have been really involved in the cause since their son passed away."
Bessler said many service members will march in Wilfahrt's honor.
However, Bessler said the big draw this year is the gay marriage controversy.
"We are expecting a lot more people to come because of the marriage amendment," said Bessler. "We have been getting a lot of inquiries about what are the festival hours and does the festival cost money and can we bring our pet to the festival?"
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. There is no admission charge, but some stage shows do charge a fee. Pets are allowed, but must be on a leash and under control.
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