Wednesday, July 24, 2013

National LGBTQ Catholic Organization Honors Role Played by Catholics and Other Faith Groups in Securing Marriage Equality in Minnesota


I mentioned in a previous post that DignityUSA held its 2013 National Convention in Minneapolis earlier this month (July 4-7). The theme of the convention was "Let Justice Roll Like a River."

During the conference's opening ceremony on the evening of Thursday, July 4, State Senator Scott Dibble, State Senator Patricia Torres Ray, and I were honored for our "prophetic leadership in achieving marriage equality in Minnesota" (above).

Writing in the July 10 issue of the National Catholic Reporter, convention keynote speaker Sister Maureen Fiedler, SL, noted that:

DignityUSA is an organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics. Its members are both deeply Catholic and, of course, very concerned about justice in the church and civil society for LGBT people. In the two or three times that I have been at a DignityUSA conference, I have always found what can only be described as a palpable sense of prayer and spirituality. The same spirit pervaded Minneapolis.

This year, the planners clearly wanted members to connect the quest for LGBT justice and other struggles for justice. Thus, I was invited to keynote the conference by speaking on the social teaching of the church, raising themes of economic justice, world peace, nondiscrimination, the rights of immigrants, gender equality and respect for Earth.

Jamie Manson gave a marvelous address on the "intersections of justice." The idea is that issues of justice cannot be separated; they must "roll down like a mighty stream." She joined everyone at the conference in cheering the Supreme Court decisions overturning DOMA and Prop 8 in California. But she said she did so with a heavy heart because of the SCOTUS decision the day before that gutted a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. She praised [Catholics for Marriage Equality MN] who realized [last year] they had to oppose not just an amendment to their state constitution that would have banned same-sex marriage but another amendment also on the ballot restricting voting rights. For the record, both amendments lost, a victory for justice.

As executive coordinator of CPCSM/Catholics for Marriage Equality MN I organized the Catholic event that, as Fiedler says, "opposed not just an amendment to [the] state constitution that would have banned same-sex marriage but another amendment also on the ballot restricting voting rights." This event took place last September and was entitled "A Matter of Social Justice: Catholics Voting 'No' on Both Amendments." Jamie was one of three speakers. (For the transcript of her remarks, click here.) I was inspired to organize this event after reading Ricardo Levins Morales' August 10, 2012 Twin Cities Daily Planet article, "The Marriage Amendment as Decoy and How to Fight the Real Danger."

Right: Jamie Manson at C4ME-MN's September 29, 2012 event, "A Matter of Social Justice: Catholics Voting 'No' on Both Amendments."

Jamie's preparation for and participation in this event was clearly a pivotal experience for her. Not only did she refer to it in her remarks at the DignityUSA National Convention, but she also talked about it in her June 27, 2013 National Catholic Reporter column. The focus of this particular column was the U.S. Supreme Court's June 25 striking down of a key provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, followed the next day by its striking down of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Here's part of what Jamie wrote in her column:

I got a crash course in voter ID laws in September 2012, when I was invited to Minneapolis to offer a talk on the connection between this issue and marriage equality. At the time, Minnesotans were being asked to vote on two new amendments to their state constitution. One would ban same-sex marriage and the other would make it mandatory for voters to show a state-issued photo ID to get access to the polls.

While proponents of voter ID claim these laws are intended to protect against fraud at the polls, the reality is that incidents of such fraud are almost negligible. Those opposed to voter ID (or "voter suppression laws," as they have been justifiably dubbed) have argued convincingly that these laws create unnecessary, if not unconstitutional, obstacles between some of our most disadvantaged citizens and the voting booth.

As anyone who has worked in social services knows well, many in the poor, disabled, homeless, immigrant and elderly populations do not have state-issued identification, and if they do have one, it is often out of date. If these individuals do not have ID or if the identification does not match the voting district, they would be barred from voting or would have to endure a costly, convoluted process in order to vote, often days or weeks after the election takes place.

The law would also render many college students who have identification from out of state ineligible to vote.

Since voter ID laws disenfranchise those who would be more likely to vote for more liberal candidates and causes that protect entitlements and civil rights, it should come as no surprise that these laws are the brainchild of Republican lawmakers. In some states, keeping even a fraction of the poor, elderly, immigrant or student population from the polls could be enough to ensure a Republican or tea party victory.

It should also be no surprise, therefore, that within hours of Supreme Court's decision on the Voting Rights Act, Republican Party leaders in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina declared their plans to proceed with voter suppression.

When I was invited to give the presentation on voter ID and same-sex marriage, Michael Bayly, executive director of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, told me that if the amendment banning same-sex marriage was defeated but the voter ID amendment passed, it would be a "hollow victory." (In the end, Minnesotans managed to defeat both the voter ID and the ban on same-sex marriage amendments in November.)

Bayly's "hollow victory" phrase has been reverberating in my mind this week as the sidewalk outside the Supreme Court building transitioned from a place of frustration and defeat for racial justice activists Tuesday into a place to relief and rejoicing for LGBT activists Wednesday.

The fight against voter suppression laws and the fight for LGBT rights share some deep connections. At the most fundamental level, both are civil rights battles for equal protection under the law. In the same way that LGBT activists have asked other victims of discrimination to identify with our struggle, LGBT people must continue to foster the bonds of identity and solidarity across communities of justice-seekers.

At a strategic level, LGBT activists must also consider the ways in which voter suppression could undermine the fight for equality in the 35 states where same-sex marriage continues to be illegal. If right-wing lawmakers are successful in restricting voter eligibility among the disenfranchised, LGBT civil rights will be as vulnerable as government entitlements, civil liberties, collective bargaining and protections for immigrants.

LGBT activists and their allies know that, even in light of these historic victories, there is still much work ahead. The Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act serves as a cautionary tale of how, decades after they are won and codified, civil rights can be gradually dismantled or undermined.

Earlier this year I was interviewed by University of Minnesota student Michelle Zupanc for her academic paper, "The Influence of the Religious Left in the Rejection the 2012 Minnesota Marriage Amendment: Dialogue, Pluralism, Alliance." As Michelle notes in her introduction, her paper "does not seek to explain why Minnesotans rejected the amendment, nor does it seek to argue that religious progressives were the key reason why the amendment failed to pass. Rather, this paper seeks to demonstrate that the organizing and mobilizing strategies religious communities practiced were a key factor in the defeat of the 2012 Minnesota marriage amendment."

At its national convention earlier this month in Minneapolis, DignityUSA acknowledged and honored not just Catholic representatives of those religious organizations that helped defeat the 'marriage amendment,' but a number of representatives from the Minnesota inter-faith community (above). From left: Paula Ruddy (Catholic Coalition for Church Reform), Rebecca Voelkel (Institute for Welcoming Resources of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), David Lohman (Institute for Welcoming Resources and Faith Work Coordinator at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), Laura Smidzik (Unitarian Universalist), Robin Mavis (Wiccan), Ralph Wyman (Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance), and Liz Oppenheimer (Quaker).

That's my friend Jim Smith at the podium. As well as being a board member of CPCSM/Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, Jim also serves as DignityUSA's program manager.

Above: Standing with six of my fellow CPCSM/Catholics for Marriage Equality MN board members. From left: Lisa Vanderlinden, Cheryl Maloney, Kathleen Olsen, Brent Vanderlinden, Mary Beckfeld, me, and Jim Smith. Two board members, Mary Kay Orman and Bob DeNardo, were unable to join us that night.

Following is that part of Michelle Zupanc's paper, "The Influence of the Religious Left in the Rejection the 2012 Minnesota Marriage Amendment" in which she writes about Catholics for Marriage Equality MN.

According to Michael Bayly, the Executive Coordinator of Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), Catholics for Marriage Equality (C4ME) was created to bring up the topic of marriage equality within a Catholic context. . . . C4ME was a coalition partner with Minnesotans United for All Families, however, C4ME’s strategy went beyond personal stories and focused on discrimination and theological matters as well. According to Bayly, it was too simple to limit C4ME’s mobilizing strategies to personal stories. This belief became important because C4ME diverged from the Catholic hierarchy’s teaching on same-sex relations. Therefore, C4ME contrasted with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and Archbishop Nienstedt’s Natural Law argument . . . a theological argument in support for the amendment in which marriage is for reproductive purposes between a man and a woman in union. C4ME thus had its own set of language of rights and values based in Catholic theology and used multiple tools for organizing. C4ME’s mainly focused on their talking tips. The talking tips ranged from personal stories, and intellectual discussion on how to respond to certain theological arguments based in Catholic theology. These arguments consisted primarily of the Primacy of Conscience, the Golden Rule, and warnings against false fears provoked by the bishops and others within the Catholic hierarchy. According to Bayly, one should not be afraid to lift up Catholic theological teachings in support for marriage equality. Furthermore, C4ME used their website, literature at events, yard signs and bumper stickers & buttons with the message "Another Catholic Voting No," and their DVD as resources for organizing.

Above: The inspiring Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata, co-founders of Fortunate Families.

Right: My good friends and fellow CPCSM/Catholics for Marriage Equality MN board members Brent and Lisa Vanderlinden.

Left: After receiving my "special recognition" from DignityUSA President Lourdes Rodríguez-Nogués for "Prophetic Leadership in Achieving Marriage Equality in Minnesota," I was able to address those gathered for the convention's opening ceremony. After thanking DignityUSA and noting what an honor it was to be standing with my fellow honorees Sen. Scott Dibble and Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, I said a few things about Catholics for Marriage Equality MN.

I began by saying that our main accomplishment was that we provided a voice – a voice for Catholics attuned and responsive to the presence of God in the lives and relationships of LGBT people; a voice that respectfully challenged the words and actions of the MN Catholic Conference of Bishops. I noted that our voice is a voice informed by the very best of our Catholic tradition – the doctrine of the primacy of conscience and our rich tradition of social justice which, unlike the bishops' medieval sexual theology, was grounded in the radically inclusive life and message of Jesus.

I observed that we were able to do what did because we had leadership and creativity embodied in many people. I especially acknowledged Mary Kay Orman, the creative force behind our heart-and-mind-changing DVD, Catholics for Marriage Equality, and Jim Smith, who provided the galvanizing energy behind not just the music video recording by 300 Catholics of David Lohman's beautiful hymn "For the Children," but of one of our most successful events, the premiere of this music video in Loring Park last summer.

Finally, I noted that we could not have achieved what we did without the support of our straight allies, and that for me personally, such allies are embodied in my good friend and housemate Tim (right). I acknowledged and thanked Tim for the support he's given to both me and the work of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN this past year-and-a-half. It bears repeating that we simply could not have achieved marriage equality in Minnesota without our straight allies. And Tim is up there with the best of them!

Related Off-site Link:
DignityUSA Convention Recap – Mateo Williamson (, August 7, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
An Inspiring Evening of Conversation and Camaraderie
Quote of the Day – June 26, 2013
Doing Papa Proud
Drawing the Circle Wide
Marriage Equality Comes to Minnesota
Both 'Marriage Amendment' AND 'Voter Photo ID Amendment' Rejected by Minnesota Voters
Acknowledging, Celebrating, and Learning from Marriage Equality's 'Triumphs of Faith'
The Minneapolis (and Online) Premiere of Catholics for Marriage Equality
A Catholic Rationale for Opposing the 'Marriage Amendment'
Rediscovering What Has Been Written on Our Hearts from the Very Beginning
Michael Bayly: Changing the Church from Within

Images: Michael Bayly and Tim Lynch.


Darlene and Tom White said...

Thank you, Michael, for your gentle warrior spirit these last years which motivated so many of us.

Peace and gratitude.

Mareczku said...

Michael, you certainly deserve this award. You work so hard for civil rights and equal rights for all. You work with Catholics and others in helping to achieve marriage rights for all in Minnesota is amazing and an inspiration. God bless you always.

Mark from PA

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks, Mark!