This past Saturday, April 17, saw close to 300 people gather at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, for a CPCSM co-sponsored event that showed support for marriage equality for same-sex couples and protested the presence on campus of two high profile anti-equality activists, Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization of Marriage (NOM) and Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, CA. Both were invited to the Twin Cities by Archbishop John Nienstedt and the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life to address the archdiocesan “Reclaiming the Culture of Marriage and Life” spring conference. This conference was held at the University of St. Thomas at the same time as the pro-equality rally, and drew about 150 people.
Three things impressed me most about Saturday’s rally for marriage equality. First, the number of people who turned out for it. I’ve heard no official count, but I estimate that at least 250, possibly 300 people were in attendance. Second, I was greatly impressed and heartened by the number of young people in attendance. I’ve noted before at The Wild Reed, that for the vast majority of people under 35, homosexuality and gay marriage are non-issues. Justice and equality, however, are issues that these younger generations are very much energized by and engaged in.
Finally, I was impressed by just how Catholic the whole event was. By this I mean that most of the speakers at the rally made reference to the positive impact of their Catholic upbringing. This upbringing and what the church taught them about justice, compassion, and the value of both faith and reason, informs and inspires them to take a stand for marriage equality.
One of the first to speak at Saturday morning’s rally at UST was Maggie George (above at right), whose uncle, the late James Patrick Shannon was an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, and a past president of the College of St. Thomas (before it became a university). Maggie was present with her partner Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Program Director of the Institute for Welcoming Resources of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and their young daughter Shannon – named after Maggie’s uncle.
“[My uncle] taught me that being a good Catholic meant being truthful, loving richly and deeply and passionately, and always working for love and justice in the world,” said Maggie.
“That’s the kind of legacy and lesson we want for our daughter Shannon,” added Rebecca (pictured with Maggie above and at right). “And it’s how we try to live as Christians, as a family, and as those who work for equality and justice for all people.”
Maggie and Rebecca also asked the University of St. Thomas, Archbishop Nienstedt, the National Organization for Marriage, and the State of Minnesota to “honor the ways in which love has found our family; to respect the ways in which God’s justice and covenant come in different and beautiful ways, and to support the right of all people to say yes to marriage and commitment.”
Above: Alfonso Wenker – a young gay Catholic man, and a 2009 graduate of the University of St. Thomas.
“As a student I was incredibly involved in LGBT organizing,” said Alfonso. (See for instance the previous Wild Reed post, Out and About – April 2007.) “I was told time and again,” he said, “that the University of St. Thomas had a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion, and wanted to welcome LGBT folks on campus. Fr. Dease, the president of the university, told me privately and publicly, that he wanted LGBT people to be welcomed here.”
Allowing the National Organization for Marriage to be on the UST campus this weekend, however, sends a very different message to LGBT students, said Alfonso. That message is: “Our inclusion is not welcome.”
For Alfonso, allowing the anti-equality activists Gallagher and Cordileone on campus signifies “institutional support of an anti-LGBT sentiment.”
“It doesn’t live up to the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Alfonso noted, “and it ignores the data produced from the university’s most recent climate study that says LGBT populations on campus are suffering.”
Alfonso also introduced his parents who were present at the rally, and talked about the place and role of Catholicism in their lives.
“A core value of our family is being Catholic,” he said. “Being Catholic is as essential to my identity as my being gay is. I can’t separate the two and nor should I have to. As Christians we’re called to the communion table. We’re called to bring our whole selves and to welcome anyone who seeks that table with us.”
“As an LGBT Christian, I should be able to define family in a way that allows me to build the strongest, healthiest life possible,” Alfonso said. “I urge the leaders of the archdiocese and of the National Organization for Marriage to tell the truth: families are stronger when LGBT people can participate fully, honestly, and openly in all aspects of life – including the option to legally marry.”
“I was raised by the Catholic Church,” concluded Alfonso, “a church that taught me to fight for social justice and the ending of oppression for everyone. Our communion table is incomplete as long as we deny LGBT people full rights and inclusion.”
Above: Alfonso’s father, Joe, also spoke at Saturday’s rally.
“It’s very unfamiliar for me to stand before such a large and impressive crowd and speak out in support of equality, dignity, and human rights for all God’s children,” he began. “I’ve been a rebel, but rarely with a cause. I’m really not a protester, activist, or social justice advocate – although I know what all those thongs are and I do support social justice programs. But I really haven’t been in the front lines fighting for change. What I am is a Catholic, a husband, and a father.”
About his Catholic faith, Joe said: “I was baptized into my faith as an infant, raised in a Catholic family, attended Catholic grade school, married in the Catholic Church, raised my kids Catholic, sent my kids to Catholic schools, and I continue to attend Sunday Mass on a regular basis. My Christian faith and my path through life have blessed me with the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with a God of my own understanding. And that God loves me and you just the way you are. We are all created in God’s image. Our sexual orientation doesn’t matter. Straight, bi, gay, transgender – God loves us all. During this Easter season I have once again been reminded that there is nothing I can do to make God love me any less, and nothing I can do to make God love me any more.”
Joe also talked about being a husband for over 35 years. “I should know a little about marriage,” he said, “but like most things in life I’ve had to learn about marriage the hard way.”
What Joe has learned is quite beautiful and profound.
“I’ve learned that marriage is about two individuals dedicating themselves to each other and to love. It’s about personal sacrifice for the good of each other. It’s about acceptance, respect, forgiveness. It’s about sharing everything you are and have with another person. It’s not about a man and a woman, it’s about two people sharing their undying love for one another.”
Joe also talked about being a dad. “I’m a dad – and not just any dad,” he said. “I’m a very proud father of a successful gay man. My son Alfonso is a protester, he is an activist and an advocate. And he is on the front lines fighting for social justice every day. He’s taught me a lot and for that I’m very proud of him.”
“As a father,” said Joe, “I want my children to be free from discrimination and prejudice. I want their basic human rights to be always respected. I want them to be always seen and valued as individuals. I want them to live by the Christian values my wife and I have passed on to them. And I want my church – their church – to accept and nurture them as they are. If Alfonso finds someone to love and spend the rest of his life with, I want them to be able to experience all that marriage has to offer, including becoming the loving parents of my grandchildren. I want my church to accept and love all of us just the way we are.”
Above: Another speaker at the rally was Jason Raether, a UST law student who represented the student organization known as OutLaw. This group, said Jason, strives to “show a presence to LGBT students on a conservative Catholic campus.”
“A lot of people wonder why LGBT students would want to come to St. Thomas,” Jason said, “especially when the Roman Catholic Church does not have the most sterling gay rights record.” The answer, he said, can be found within the university’s mission statement. “It’s a mission statement that says the school is dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth, through a focus on morality and social justice.”
“The faith and morality aspect of this mission,” said Jason, “appeals to many students. For them, faith and morality do not provide a barrier to same-sex equality and marriage rights. Instead they provide an inspiration.”
“For others,” Jason said, “the reason and social justice aspects of the mission provide a very strong argument for same-sex marriage rights.”
Jason then went on to talk about how marriage rights for same-sex couples are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. “This country was founded on the ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice,” he said. “The government’s inability to recognize marriage rights for same-sex couples is contrary to all three of those principles.”
Jason also observed that supporters of discrimination often base their viewpoints on traditional or moral grounds. Yet he is adamant that such justifications do little to undo the “evil and pain that is caused by discrimination and inequality.” As Americans and as Minnesotans, he said, “we do not value hate, we value love.”
Above: Nick Kor was another current UST student who spoke at Saturday’s pro-equality rally. He lamented the lack of resources on campus for LGBT students, and reminded the crowd that the UST students present at the rally were also protesting the double-standard of the university’s speakers policy, one that did not allow Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak, but is allowing Maggie Gallagher and Bishop Cordileone to speak.
“We’re here to show that the University of St. Thomas students and the community do care about LGBT equality and marriage equality,” Nick said. “And I think the sheer number of us here today show that.”
Above: Brian McNeill, president of Dignity Twin Cities, the local chapter of Dignity USA, the largest gay Catholic organization in the country, also spoke on Saturday.
He began by reading a part of the preamble of Dignity’s Statement of Position and Purpose.
We believe that LGBT Catholics in our diversity are members of Christ’s Mystical Body, numbered among the people of God. We have an inherent dignity because God created us, Christ died for us, and the Holy Spirit sanctified us in baptism, making us temples of the Holy Spirit and channels through which God’s love becomes visible. Because of this, it is our right, our privilege, and our duty to live the sacramental life of the Church so that we might be more powerful instruments of God’s love working among all people.
Brian also made connections between the church’s clerical leadership’s fixation on denying marriage rights to gay people and the clergy sex abuse crisis.
“It is not a coincidence,” he said, “that one response of the American bishops to this crisis is the well-documented fact that they are pouring money into efforts to stop same-sex marriage in states across the country. It is clear why they are doing this. The clergy sex abuse scandal completely undermines their credibility as religious authorities. So to help restore their credibility they are trafficking in bigotry against LGBT citizens. Like Republican politicians in the South in the ’60s, they are hoping to gain stature by stirring up hate for a minority group.”
“The bishops say they want to protect children,” said Brian. “Well, we all want to protect children, including the children of LGBT couples. And the very best way we can do that is to allow LGBT couples full access to civil and sacramental marriage.”
Brian concluded his remarks by focusing on “the heart of Catholic teaching on sexual morality,” i.e., “the assertion that every sexual act must be open to procreation.” The bishops may believe this, said Brian, but Catholics don’t. He cited a 2005 Harris poll that says 88% of Catholics use artificial birth control. “In other words,” said Brian, “in the privacy of their bedrooms, 88% of Catholic couples defy this central tenet of the Catholic faith . . . and the basis for the Church’s opposition to gay relationships.”
“The great majority of Catholics are on our side if they are honest and they think about it,” Brian said. “That’s why Dignity Twin Cities and Dignity USA are confident that sooner or later the Church will change.”
Above: Brian McNeill and his partner Steve.
Above: Lisa and Brent Vanderlinden, Catholic parents of a gay child.
Above: Monica Meyers, Public Policy Director of OutFront Minnesota.
“I don’t usually do this, but I’m going to talk about why personally I am here today,” began Monica, “I was raised Catholic, and from what I know from my Catholic teaching and what my parents have taught me is that we should be standing up for justice, fairness, equality, and speaking out when things are wrong.”
Monica also talked about the state of marriage equality in Minnesota. “Laws in Minnesota exclusively bar same-sex couples from getting married,” she reminded the crowd.
“I met the person that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with,” said Monica, “and I’m so excited about that - and about getting to have that person in my life who reminds me to be the best me every single day, and who makes me want to fight and be a better person. I feel really fortunate to have found that person.”
Monica shared how she and her partner Michelle went to Canada and got married. Yet when they returned to Minnesota they realized that as a couple they were “strangers in our laws.”
“That really saddens me,” said Monica. “But what gives me hope is that we can change that law very easily. And we can do it! All we need to do is to get more people involved, get businesses, non,-profits, unions, places of worship on board and officially supporting marriage equality." Engaging in such organizing across the state will, said Monica, ensure that "we can truly have equality.”
Above: Monica Meyers (at right) with staff and volunteers of OutFront Minnesota which co-sponsored Saturday's rally and protest with the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, Dignity Twin Cities, All God's Children Metropolitan Community Church, and the Institute for Welcoming Resources of the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce.
Above: Kelly Lewis, OutFront Minnesota’s Community Organizer.
Above: Rev. Paul Eknes Tucker of All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church.
Above and left: Senator John Marty participated in Saturday’s rally and protest.
Sen. Marty is the author of one of three marriage equality bills currently before the Minnesota Senate. He was also the 2009 recipient of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities’ Bishop Thomas Gumbleton Peace and Justice Award. At last year's CPCSM Annual Community Meeting, Sen. Marty spoke eloquently about his ongoing efforts to achieve marriage equality for all Minnesotans.
Above: My friends Jacki and Noelle - with cute little Quinn. When I started delivering my remarks at Saturday’s rally as Executive Coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, Quinn recognized my voice and greeted me with a few sharp barks! It was quite funny.
Following is the text of my speech.
My name is Michael Bayly and I’m the executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities – CPCSM for short.
We’re an independent, grassroots coalition that for thirty years has been working to create environments of justice, respect, and safety for LGBT people and their families within the Roman Catholic Church.
Yes, you could say we like a challenge!
I’m going to be brief this morning as I really only want to say three things.
First, as much as one can apologize for the actions of others, I as a Catholic would like to apologize for the actions of the clerical leadership of the Roman Catholic Church – and in particular this morning, for the inviting to St. Paul of the two anti-equality activists who are speaking just a short distance from here.
Which brings me to the second thing I want to say: Those invited here today by Archbishop Nienstedt to incite discrimination against gay people and to deny them their civil rights, do not speak for all Catholics. A Pew survey from last October clearly shows this, and I can tell you that here in the Twin Cities there are many Catholics – gay and straight – working to reform the church’s thinking on sexuality.
Which brings me to my third and final point: Much of the reason for why Maggie Gallagher and Bishop Cordileon are here today is to do with the Catholic Church’s profoundly impoverished way of thinking and talking about sexuality. Make no mistake: it’s a dysfunctional sexual theology from which flows misogyny, sexual abuse, homophobia, and all kinds of discriminatory attitudes and actions.
I believe that as Catholics we can do better.
As pie-in-the-sky as it may sound, I look forward to the day when office holders like Archbishop Nienstedt join those of us who are already developing an understanding of sexuality that is informed by the experiences of all of us, and by the insights of science. For Catholics, this should not be a radical idea. After all, we have a long tradition of relying on both faith and reason in developing Catholic theology. Yet we seem to have lost that when it comes to homosexuality. And that’s really sad – for gay people, for the church, and for society.
For me, and perhaps for you, the struggle for marriage equality and the struggle for a healthy sexual theology within Catholicism are very much connected. That’s not the case for everyone, of course, and that’s fine. But if it does resonate with you, and you’d like to be an upfront Catholic advocate for marriage equality, then please don’t hesitate to see me afterward to compare notes!
Thank you for listening, and thanks for being here today.
Recommended Off-site Link:
LGBT Minnesotans Rally Against Prop 8 Leaders at U of St. Thomas - James Sanna (TheColu.mn, April 19, 2010).
UPDATE: Maggie Gallagher Steps Down as NOM President - Evan Hurst (TruthWinsOut.org, April 20, 2010).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Catholics Join with Others in Protesting the Visit of Two Leading Anti-Equality Activists
Andy Birkey on the Church’s “Blame the Gays” Fixation
A Catholic Voice for Marriage Equality at the State Capitol
Catholics Join in Nationwide Protests of Prop 8
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride
300+ People Vigil at Cathedral in Solidarity with LGBT Catholics
A Christian Case for Same-Sex Marriage
Images: Michael J. Bayly (with thanks to David McCaffrey for the photos of me!).