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Small-town Minnesota publisher supports gay marriage, loses subscribers

At the Swift County Monitor-News, a 1,500-word editorial caused the equivalent of 1,000 major-paper cancellations.

Last week, I wrote about the Pioneer Press dropping political endorsements. I hadn’t expected to write a bookend, but then a small-town publisher left this comment on another story:

At the Swift County Monitor-News in Benson, we have taken editorial stands against both amendments. We’ve also run letters to the editor urging people to vote for both. In small towns, taking controversial stands can mean losing precious subscribers. On the Marriage Amendment, where religious beliefs play a big part and emotions run deeper, this has been particularly true. 

Reed Afinson
Reed Anfinson

Intrigued, I contacted Reed Anfinson, who’s published the paper for 30 years. It turns out the number of cancellation letters was small — five — though at a 3,000-subscriber weekly, that’s the equivalent of the Star Tribune losing 1,000 Sunday subscribers.

Given that Swift County has lost a third of its population in the last 60 years, “every subscriber is precious,” Anfinson says. “You know for every letter you receive, there are more people who feel the same way.”

So why go there? Why write — in a place where the Catholic Church has a giant “Vote Yes” on Highway 9 — that “If you accept the Bible as the final Word of God, you can’t quote passages that are convenient to your arguments and ignore those that are not”?

Anfinson (who gave permission to reprint the 1,500-word editorial, below) says, simply: “We open the editorial page to other points of view, and [someone] wrote, ‘What the Bible said, you can’t go against it.’ Well, I have one very blue and one very brown eye. According to Exodus, I cannot approach the altar; I have a defect. I thought, ‘What if people with two different-color eyes were treated the same way as gays?’”

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Anfinson is not just any small-town newspaperman; he won Minnesota’s Freedom of Information Award two years ago and just stepped down as the president of the National Newspaper Association, which represents 2,300 community newspapers around the county. And Swift County isn’t the blood-red backwater Twin Citians might assume; it gave Barack Obama in 2008 and Al Franken in 2010 a higher pecentage of its vote than did Minnesota as a whole.

Anfinson recalls a recent conversation with a South Dakota paper’s editor and publisher, who told him “they couldn’t have done what I did — they feared they’d lose not only subscribers, but advertisers. That area is very, very red.”

Pioneer Press editor Mike Burbach said business reasons weren’t why his paper switched, but he wasn’t exactly clear about the rationale beyond “people are going to make up their own minds, whether you do endorsements or not, and they have ever-more sources of information.”

Anfinson doesn’t mince words: “I’m troubled by the Pioneer Press’s stand [on non-endorsements]. That shows a real lack of depth of conviction about what your paper’s about. What is the conviction of the positions you’ve taken all year long? If candidates support policies we believe would make a better society, we’d support those candidates.”

Many Minnesota community papers have editorialized against the marriage amendment; none support it. Anfinson adds, “Community papers as a whole are much more engaged — we’re the cheerleaders, the prodders, the conscience. We’ve had a long history of editorializing on complex issues. When you write these things, you walk out the door and get immediate feedback.”

Burbach is the first PiPress editor in recent memory to run the newsroom and opinion section, breeching the big-daily divide between news and opinion. Anfinson is way past that: he’s the six-employee paper’s government reporter. “After you do this for a long time, you can see the facts of a story, and write the story that way. I always read it back, to see if I’m editorializing. Am I trying to be fair? Am I going too far the other way?”

As a journalist who tries to be fair and transparent about my beliefs, I sympathize with Anfinson’s approach; I’m sure my feelings are colored by sharing his position — my wife and I are Vote No donors.  Anfinson hasn’t gone that far, but like many Minnesotans of conscience, he’s motivated by personal conviction.

“My first experience with someone who was gay was at the University of Minnesota — I worked at a place called Britches, in Dinkydale. The manager was gay, I worked for him for three years, got to know him and his friends, and have gotten to know other gays and lesbians. It angers me that they would be treated any other way than I would be treated.”

Anfinson says his journalistic responsibility compels him to open his opinion pages to opposing views, many of which have appeared in the paper. “I served six years on the Minnesota News Council, where I listened to the complaints of people. It always comes down to fairness, you didn’t listen to their side. So if people can read somebody slamming me, there’s more of a sense of fairness on the page.”

And not every response has been critical, he adds: “I wrote one after President Obama endorsed gay marriage, and I got a call from a 90-year-old woman saying, ‘Thank you.’”

Here’s Reed Anfinson’s editorial:

We have printed a fair number of letters this fall from people who would urge you to vote for a state constitutional amendment that would prohibit gays, lesbians, or bi-sexual couples from marrying.

The principle arguments of those who urge you to vote for the Marriage Amendment are:

– The Bible says homosexual relationships are wrong

– The Bible says marriage is between one man and one woman

– Gay couples can’t raise kids because it is confusing for them

– Male-female relationships are necessary to perpetuate the species

–  Children are confused by same-sex parents

– We must stop activist courts from frustrating the “will of the people.”

Born this way

Let’s get one fact straight right at the start: Being gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender is not a choice. It is the way a person comes into this world.

We know that the people living at the time the Bible was written had no concept of genetics and no concept of hormonal balances, or their impact on the structure of the brain and how they determine sexual orientation. What wasn’t understood, what was out of the ordinary, was either worshipped, or feared and reviled in ancient times.

Young boys will exhibit the characteristics of their sexual orientation long before they begin developing sexual interests as maturing adolescents. It is shown in photographs of the way they would stand as children. It is told in the stories of parents who relate how their son was more interested in Barbies and girls clothing than in GI Joes or playing football. It is told in the stories of families raising identical twins – one gay and one straight.

“Scientific research has led the medical and psychological community to recognize that being gay, lesbian, or bisexual are normal sexual orientations,” Katherine M. Slama, PhD, writes.

Since 1975 the American Psychological Association has been fighting to raise awareness that being gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual is not a psychological disease.

The American Medical Association “…supports the dignity of the individual, human rights and … oppose(s) any discrimination based on an individual’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, national origin or age and any other such reprehensible policies.” It recognizes that sexual orientation is not a choice.

Freedom of Religion is a lst Amendment Right

The proposed amendment would violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Simply put, the government cannot dictate the liturgies in our churches, telling how we must or must not worship.

In July the Episcopal bishops passed a resolution that establishes a liturgy for wedding couples of the same sex. The vote was 111 to 41 to create this new, more inclusive, liturgy. In addressing the proposal, the Rev. Michael Louis Vono of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande said, “It is the Jesus thing to do in our time.”

Through this new liturgy same sex couples would make their vows and exchange rings. The minister would then declare them “bound to one another in a holy covenant, as long as they both shall live.”

The Episcopal Church is not some fringe religion; it is a mainstream church with nearly 2 million members in the United States. The Presbyterian Church in America has also been considering redefining marriage for its ceremonies “as two people” to allow for the inclusion of same sex couples.

No one is telling the Catholic Church, or any other church, it has to marry gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender couples. They are simply saying don’t tell our church what it can and cannot do.

Male-female marriages to populate the world

We don’t seem to be having a problem perpetuating the species as the world moves to an unsustainable population. It is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Then it is on to 10 and 15 billion and beyond to a world crushed by population.

The tyranny of the majority & activist courts

Our government is based on a set of checks and balances. The founders rejected the concept that a simple majority could dictate law to all. They rejected it in favor of a political and judicial system that ensured minority groups would not be oppressed.

Courts are ideally meant to do one thing when it comes to considering the constitutionality of laws passed at both the state and federal levels – determine if they meet the intent of the framers. Often these laws were not written to simply enshrine the rights of a majority, but written to protect the rights of minorities against the uncompromising tyranny of majorities.

Through state constitutional amendments that can be approved not only by a simple majority of those voting, but by a minority of the population if voter turnout is low, the checks on oppression fundamental to the founder’s concept of government can be thrown out.

 “Activist judge” is a common conservative mantra when it comes to courts finding conservative efforts to limit the rights of others are overturned. A judge is righteous or just if he or she rules in their favor.

If you quote the Bible…

If you accept the Bible as the final Word of God, you can’t quote passages that are convenient to your arguments and ignore those that are not.

“Here are the other laws you must obey,” Exodus 21:7 says. “If a man sells his daughter as a slave she shall not be freed at the end of six years as men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, then he shall let her be bought back again….” So it’s okay to sell your daughters?

Exodus 21:15 says, “Anyone who strikes his father or mother shall surely be put to death.” Kill your son or daughter for hitting you and you are going to be in jail for a very long time.

Leviticus 24:44 says a person can posses male or female slaves as long as they are from a foreign country. We fought the bloodiest war in American history to free slaves.

Exodus 35:2 says that a person who works on Sunday must die. We are not even supposed to light the fires in our homes on Sunday. Lighting fires is pretty essential to survival in cold climates and we would lose the majority of the world’s population if we killed everyone who worked on Sunday – Christians included.

Leviticus 21:16-19 states that no one with any kind of physical imperfection, whether of sight, or pimples, or a broken nose (you can add to the list as many imperfections as you want) can go no near the alter of the Lord. So much for the concept of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

These are only a few of the admonitions in the Bible that are not followed by anyone of the Christian faith today. Why? We’ve learned these were the ways of people living 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, ways that we grew beyond as our understanding of the world grew.

Families

Today there is a wealth of studies on children raised by same-sex couples. Time after time these studies show that “the development, adjustment, and well-being of children of lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from that of children with heterosexual parents,” the American Psychological Association says.

Want more proof? Just ask Zach Walls. He has written a book entitled  “My Two Moms.”

“The sexual orientation of my parents has had zero (negative) effect on the content of my character,” a then 19-year-old Walls told an Iowa House Judiciary Committee in January 2011. Zach is an Eagle Scout and environmental engineering student in college.

We have known many kids with significant mental health problems who have grown up in traditional families. There are too many broken homes, abusive homes, and homes where parents give no direction, support or love to their children among heterosexual couples to begin to assume that children in same-sex parent households will be confused. So saying kids need parents of the same sex doesn’t work with us. What kids need is a loving, nurturing home.

A dream of equality

In his “I have a Dream” speech the Rev. Martin Luther King said:  “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…’

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

King could have been saying these very same words about gays. lesbians, bi-sexual or transgender people for they also face oppression, hate, and discrimination.

Vote “No” to the proposed Marriage Amendment.