Thursday, May 26, 2011

In the Struggle for Marriage Equality, MN Catholics are Making a Difference by Changing Hearts and Minds

Although the Minnesota House recently voted 70-62 to allow the citizens of Minnesota to decide whether to limit civil marriage to heterosexual couples, I take hope in a number of events that took place in the lead-up to and during the House vote.

I've previously highlighted, for instance, the wonderful spirit of hope and solidarity that was shared by marriage equality supporters who rallied at the Capitol (see here and here). I've also highlighted the inspiring anti-amendment speech by Republican Rep. John Kriesel.

Yes, we made a difference, of that there's no doubt. A number of representatives changed their votes as a result of our presence and our witnessing for justice and equality for all. This bodes well for the months ahead as we turn now to encourage and inspire our fellow Minnesotans to vote "No" on the discriminatory and mean-spirited marriage amendment.

Local Catholics played (and will continue to play) an important role in changing people's hearts and minds around the amendment. As you know, of all the Christian denominations, Catholics are the most supportive of civil rights – including civil marriage rights – for gay people. One "success story" I'd like to share involves Catholic Democratic Representative Patti Fritz (left).

In the lead-up to the House vote it looked as though Rep. Fritz would vote for the amendment. After all, she did vote in 2005 for a similar amendment that later "died in committee." Yet thanks, in part, to a number of pro-equality Catholics who contacted her, Rep. Fritz did not vote for the amendment this time around. I'm happy to say that Catholics for Marriage Equality MN played a crucial role in mobilizing Catholics to contact Fritz (and other representatives) and share their stories and perspective as Catholics.

My friends Brent and Lisa are founding members of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN. They are also the parents of a gay son. Recently they were interviewed for the "video project" of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN (opening image and right). This particular initiative is modeled on the It Gets Better Project and will involve the establishment of a YouTube channel on which a number of short but powerful "video vignettes" will be available for viewing. These videos will feature Catholic gay couples and parents of gay people sharing their stories and explaining why as Catholics they support marriage equality.

Filming of the videos took place on May 1. Along with Brent and Lisa, another Catholic couple interviewed was MN Sen. Scott Dibble and his husband Richard (left).

Members of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN will be viewing "rough-cuts" of the videos for the first time this Friday. We're very excited about this as we believe that these videos will change hearts and minds – in the same way that the following letter to Rep. Fritz from Brent and Lisa helped change her heart and mind.

Thank you Brent and Lisa. And thank you Rep. Fritz!


Dear Representative Fritz,

My husband and I and our friend Rose came to the Capitol tonight to discuss the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage with you. We were informed that you have been receiving a lot of emails from Catholic voters urging you to support the bill that would put this amendment on the ballot, and we wanted to share our viewpoint with you, as Catholic parents of a gay son.

Unfortunately, the timing did not work out for us to meet with you. However, we did have a chance to discuss this issue briefly with Representative Tara Mack, who is our representative in Apple Valley where we live. And although she seems to support the bill, at least we were able to offer some viewpoints that she may not have considered before. And we followed up with an email to her requesting that she at least support referring this bill back to committee for more consideration.

We also told her that many Minnesotans are suffering through severe economic hardship right now, and most are very worried about the stability of their jobs, their home values, and budget-busting gasoline prices. Now is not the time to impose a costly and divisive debate on this State, for a law that is already on the books – same-sex marriage is currently not legal in Minnesota. Why add salt to the wounds of our gay and lesbian friends and family members by further shutting the door on their hopes for equal marriage rights?

But we mostly want to tell you what this issue means to us as Catholic parents of a gay son. We firmly believe in the Church's stance on abortion and social justice. We have worked closely with homeless people and lived as volunteer staff members at a Catholic Worker House we founded and ran in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for several years. We also believe that our gay son was created in the image and likeness of God, as his brothers were. He is not "intrinsically disordered" as the Church hierarchy says he is, and he is not less worthy of equal marriage rights than his brothers or friends who are not gay.

Our gay son is not a second class citizen. He is good and kind and intelligent and compassionate. He composes music, he is a National Merit finalist, and he is a freshman at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. He knew early on that he was different from society's expectations of boys, and he realized at age 10 that he was gay. He came out to us and his brothers at age 13. It took a lot of courage in his part, but we have loved him and supported him every step of the way! Our parish priest told us that we should never have to choose between our son and our Church, but if it came to that, we must support our son. We are lucky to have a caring, compassionate and understanding priest!

My husband and my mother both have cousins who were gay and we know many people who are gay who also have a gay relative. There is a great deal of scientific evidence that people are born gay. Why would we punish someone for being what God created them to be, or tell them that they are wrong for loving who God created them to love?

I know many gay and lesbian Catholics who are wonderful parents and would get married in a heartbeat if the State would allow them to do so. I strongly recommend that you read, Are There Closets in Heaven?, which is a beautiful story of a Catholic father (an Iowa farmer) and his lesbian daughter.

Please realize what kind of message this debate and amendment sends to our son and other gay and lesbian people. It tells them that they are not worthy of important rights that the rest of Minnesotans enjoy. The Constitution is meant to protect the civil rights of all Minnesotans. Please help us protect our son's rights by not supporting this bill!

Thank you for considering our viewpoint.


Brent and Lisa

Above: Brent and Lisa, one of a number of Catholic couples
interviewed for Catholics for Marriage Equality MN's video project.

Above: Standing center with (at left) Tom and Darlene White,
and (at right) Scott Dibble and his husband Richard – May 1, 2011.

Above: Catholics for Marriage Equality MN hosted an educational
and organizing event on the evening of Monday, May 2, 2011.

Entitled "A Catholic Case in Support of Same-Sex Civil Marriage," the event featured three speakers addressing the legal, psycho-social and theological meaning and implications of same-sex marriage. Time was also spent discussing, strategizing and launching the MN Catholic Campaign for Marriage Equality. This campaign aims to:

1) Oppose (in a respectful and informed way) the proposed constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples.

2) Advocate for marriage equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation.

3) Challenge the bishops' anti-gay marriage efforts and let Minnesota legislators and voters know that the bishops do not speak for the majority of Catholics on this issue.

For the 5-Step Action Plan of this campaign, click here.

Left: I was honored to be one of the three speakers at Catholics for Marriage Equality MN's May 2 event. As Executive Coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), co-chair of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR), and co-convener of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, I spoke on how we can support same-sex marriage from an alternative philosophical/theological perspective to that promulgated by the Minnesota Catholic Conference of Bishops.

Candace Mainville, MA (above center), a Hennepin County social worker, spoke from her professional experience and with references from psycho-social scientific studies about the qualifications and competencies of same-sex couples raising children as compared with opposite-sex couples. She also shared her professional perceptions and knowledge of the psycho-social adjustment of children raised by gay and lesbian parents in comparison with those raised by opposite-sex parents.

Phil Duran, JD (above at right), who has served as OutFront Minnesota's Legal Director since 2000, shared the legal implications and potential impact on LGBT families of any constitutional amendment banning civil marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Right: Our May 2 event also featured the "Loves Makes a Family" Photographic Exhibit. The bringing to the Twin Cities of this exhibit was organized by Brent and Lisa.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Five DFLers You Should Call or Email to Thank for Voting Against Marriage Discrimination – Eric Austin (, May 22, 2011).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Catholic Attitudes on Gay and Lesbian Issues: An Overview
A Catholic Statement of Support for Same-Sex Marriage
Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality
Responding to Bishop Tobin's Remarks on Gay Marriage
"Fervently Catholic, Proudly Gay and Happily Married"
A Cradle Catholic's Case for Same-Sex Marriage
Catholic Theologian: "Heterosexism, Not Homosexuality, is the Problem"
Marianne Duddy-Burke on Religious Liberty vs. Same-Sex Marriage
At UST, a Rousing and Very Catholic Show of Support for Marriage Equality
Day One of the Campaign to Defeat the Anti-Family Marriage Ban

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