Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Celebration of Faith and Family; A Call for Compassion and Fairness

Okay, this post is long overdue! But here, finally, is my report on last month's Freedom to Marry Day at the Minnesota State Capitol.

Held on Thursday, February 10, and organized by OutFront Minnesota, the Freedom to Marry Day saw over 400 people gather in the rotunda of the Capitol building to hear leaders from a number of faith traditions speak out for marriage equality.

As in previous years, I was honored to stand with these inspiring men and women of faith as a representative of the many Catholics supportive of LGBT people, relationships and families – and thus supportive of marriage equality. And as you'll see, I was not the only Catholic to speak out.

Following are photos, quotes and commentary from the wonderful celebration of faith and family, and the rousing call for compassion and fairness that was last month's Freedom to Marry Day. Enjoy!

Left: Javen Swanson, Intern Pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, and his husband Oby Ballinger, pastor at Community United Church of Christ in St. Paul Park.

"We're here in the name of the God of many names and one vision of abundant life for all people," said Oby. "We're here today as people of many colors, shapes, abilities, orientations and genders because God is a beautiful creative artist."

"We gather with our families to support equal recognition of all families in Minnesota," added Javen. "We are diverse in our identity but united in our conviction that love is love and that families spawned from our love deserve the same status and recognition as any other."

Above: Openly gay Minnesota Senator Scott Dibble.

"We can defeat the mean-spirited effort [to enshrine discrimination against gay people in the Minnesota Constitution]" said Scott. "More and more people understand who we are as human beings, understand who we are as families. And folks here at the Capitol need to understand that."

Above: The Reverend LeeAnne Watkins, Pastor of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in St. Paul.

LeeAnne began by honoring all those in the Episcopal Church who in years past had worked tirelessly to allow women to be ordained as priests. "Because of their efforts," she said, "I now see it as my turn, my vocation, to open any door that is shut to any of God's children."

She encouraged those working for marriage equality to be "joyful, prayerful, loving and persistent" in their efforts.

Left: Benilde-St. Margaret High School student Sean Simonson. You may recall that Sean was in the news last November after his school newsletter commentary, "Life as a Gay Teenager," was censored by school authorities.

"One day when I was in the seventh grade," said Sean at the Freedom to Marry Day, "I was walking home from school and saw some kids playing in a yard. I decided that when I grew up my family . . . And then I stopped. I stood there and at that moment I watched my American Dream die. I could never get married. I would never have kids. I would never have a family. I only realized I was gay that previous December, and I thought I had become use to the sense of loss and isolation. But the grief that I felt in that moment overshadowed anything that I had ever felt before. That day I lost my patriotic innocence. America was no longer a home offering me freedom, justice and equality. Not having the right to marry was not something I could come to terms with as a 13-year-old. And it's something that I still have not come to terms with."

"For five years my anger built up inside me," continued Sean. "Time and time again, the nation voted in candidates that voted against my rights. Classmates used my sexuality as an insult, as a slur. Even my own archbishop went to the lengths of producing a DVD that called for further discrimination against me. I decided to do something. So in response I wrote an article for my school newspaper, outlining some of the things that my straight friends might not know what I had to go through every day as a gay teenager."

Despite the controversy Sean's article caused, he nevertheless noted that "it could not compare to the love and understanding that overwhelmed me. Countless people stopped me in the halls, posted on my Facebook wall, sent me e-mails . . . wrote me letters – all affirming my decision to speak out. Finally, they too had the chance to come out and voice their support."

"More and more kids are turning eighteen," observed Sean, "and a new generation is starting to have its say. I know that my generation is going to use their voice to stop any law or policy that prevents a 13-year-old, or anyone, from dreaming."

Above: "I'm not here as a religious person," said Dan Hawkins of Minneapolis. "I'm here primarily as a gay man and as a Minnesotan."

Dan's message was a simple yet powerful one: "We need to stand up for equal civil rights for everyone, and not put them to the vote by the majority."

He shared the story of how, when backpacking last summer with his partner of 23 years, he caught a tick-bourne illness. "I got very sick and was very close to dying. [My partner] was with me every minute I needed him. . . . The fact that we live in Minnesota where there were no questions asked, where he could be there [at the hospital] all the time, was something I took for granted."

Dan noted, however, that not all places in the U.S. are as accepting of same-sex partners when it comes to medical emergencies. An amendment to the Minnesota Constitution banning same-sex marriage and potentially all legal equivalents would effectively end the openness, compassion and acceptance that Dan and his partner experienced when they dealt with Dan's medical crisis last year. He urged those in attendance to work to defeat any such proposed amendment.

Left: Doug Donnolly of University Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

"Good religious people support equal rights for everyone," declared Doug to enthusiastic applause. "Good religious people support marriage rights for all people. Good religious folks support freedom and justice and equality for all people. We do this because we're part of an ancient narrative that has always stood by those deemed as outcasts. . . . God is always on the side of liberation and justice."

Above: Tom and Darlene White, co-founders of Catholic Rainbow Parents.

"Darlene and I are here," said Tom, "representing the very best of our Catholic upbringing in standing with the many Catholics who in their deepest conscience believe in a God that not only cherishes but celebrates our LGBT brothers and sisters in their struggle for justice and equality for their families."

"We are the proud grandparents of two wonderful boys," continued Tom, "who happen to have two moms, one of whom is our only daughter. They are good athletes and exceptional students. Last year, the eldest boy chose as a topic for a class assignment: 'Gay Marriage: The Argument for Equality.' He wrote: 'One politician states that children raised in a home with gay parents will not be as likely to succeed. I have found, however, in my personal experience, that I am doing quite well, which I hope will undermine this [politician's] argument.'"

"Why should a 15-year-old have to defend his family's very existence?" asked Tom. "My wish would be that every legislator would spend just one day with a family like ours and experience the family bonding of love and life that goes on there."

Right: "For the sake of all children we gather here from all over Minnesota to keep and make real the vision of fairness, compassion and equality," said Darlene.

With my dear friends Tom and Darlene White.

Following is the text of the speech I delivered at the Freedom to Marry Day on February 10, 2011.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak.

My name is Michael Bayly and I’m one of a growing number of Catholics who have claimed the priesthood of their baptism so as to speak out for marriage equality.

As you all know, one of the most well-funded and vocal groups working to deny civil marriage rights to gay people is the clerical hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Here in Minnesota this group has already spent over four million dollars on an anti-gay marriage DVD campaign. And they’ll no doubt spend more in the months ahead. Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt has made no secret of the fact that working against marriage equality is one of his major priorities in 2011.

Yet as a gay Catholic man I want to let you know that when it comes to the issue of gay rights, Archbishop Nienstedt and the clerical caste of the church do not speak for the majority of American Catholics. In fact, recent polls tell us that American Catholics are among the strongest supporters of equality for LGBT people. [And since the time I made this statement last month there has been further evidence of this strong support. See, for instance, the links provided at the end of this post.]

In our talking about this issue it’s crucial that we always remember and highlight this important difference between the Catholic people and the Catholic hierarchy. Make no mistake, the bishops are increasingly out of touch with God’s spirit of compassion and justice alive in the Catholic people and the wider world.

I believe that one reason for why members of the Catholic hierarchy are so opposed to gay marriage is that they know that Catholics are a key religious group in the struggle for marriage equality. The data is clear: Catholics serve as a very important “moveable middle” on key socio-political issues – including gay marriage. For example, 62% of Catholics believe in the acceptance of homosexuality while almost 50% would vote for marriage equality. Because the next generation of Catholics have no time for discrimination against their gay friends and family members, we are seeing these numbers rising. And with this will come change.

We need to let our elected representatives know this. We need to remind them that when it comes to the issue of gay rights, the members of the clerical hierarchy of the Catholic Church, despite their well-funded platform, their bullying tactics, and their much-publicized efforts, do not represent the thinking of the majority of Catholic people.

In closing, I want to let you know that here in Minnesota there are many Catholics – gay and straight – who are on your side. We call ourselves Catholics for Marriage Equality MN. We’ve issued a Statement of Support for Marriage Equality (which you can read and sign on our website) and we’ve released a DVD featuring theologian Daniel Maguire speaking on how you can indeed be Catholic and support gay marriage. Think of it as the other Catholic DVD campaign.

For information about these initiatives and our group, please see me after the rally.

Thank you for your time.

Above: My friends Mary Lynn, Bob and Paula.

NOTE: In addition to those I've highlighted above, other speakers at OutFront Minnesota's Freedom to Marry Day included Representative Karen Clark; Rabbi Jared Saks of Temple Israel, Minneapolis; Reverend David Breeden of Minnesota Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship; Reverend Elizabeth Macaulay of Richfield United Methodist Church; Reverend Dan Garnaas of Grace University Lutheran Church, Minneapolis; Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian of Plymouth Congregational Church, Minneapolis; Claire and Liz Bryan; Linda Solka and the Religious Education class from Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka; and Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Catholics for Marriage Equality MN
OutFront Minnesota
Five Reasons We Shouldn't Be Surprised That Catholics Support LGBT Rights – Paul Gorrell (, March 25, 2011 – via The Progressive Catholic Voice).
Catholics More Supportive of Gay Rights Than General Public, Other Christians – Michael Sean Winters (National Catholic Reporter, March 22, 2011 – via The Progressive Catholic Voice).
U.S. Catholics Break with Church Hierarchy on Gay Relationships – Cathy Lynn Grossman (USA Today, March 23, 2011).
A Catholic Defense of Same-Sex Marriage – Daniel Maguire (The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, April 20, 2006).
Dialoguing with the Archbishop: Amendment Campaign Contrary to Church Moral Teaching – Paula Ruddy (The Progressive Catholic Voice, March 3, 2011).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Catholic Statement of Support for Same-Sex Marriage
Jonathan Capehart: "Catholics Lead the Way on Same-Sex Marriage"
Catholic Dad: "My Gay Son and His Partner are Made in the Likeness and Image of God"
A Cradle Catholic's Case for Same-Sex Marriage
A Message for NOM (and the Catholic Hierarchy)
A Hopeful and Encouraging Trend
At UST, a Rousing and Very Catholic Show of Support for Marriage Equality
A Catholic Voice for Marriage Equality at the State Capitol
300+ People Vigil at the Cathedral in Solidarity with LGBT Catholics
Voices of Parental Authority and Wisdom
A Parent's Prayer
Catholic Theologian: "Heterosexism, Not Homosexuality, is the Problem"


Mareczku said...

Excellent and touching post, Michael.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks, Mark. Believe me, it was an honor to be part of this event -- one filled with so many inspiring people and stories.

Hope you're doing well! Sorry I've been so slack in responding to your e-mails and Facebook messages. Things have been very busy here lately. I definitely appreciate hearing from you, however! You're a good friend and a loyal supporter of this blog. And for that I thank you with all my heart!