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Basilica Block Party caught up in fight over marriage amendment

A proposed boycott, organized on Facebook, quickly has drawn 1,700 supporters protesting the Catholic Church’s support of a constitutional amendment.  Others, though, say the effort is off-base.Related: Block Party DJ Turner says boycott not

Basilica Block Party caught up in fight over marriage amendment

The Basilica of St. Mary has hosted annual Block Parties since 1995.
Collapse the Light/Creative Commons
The Basilica of St. Mary has hosted annual Block Parties since 1995.

The campaign surrounding the so-called marriage amendment is going to touch all facets of Minnesota life in the coming months.

The latest example: An organized effort on Facebook is urging people to boycott the Basilica Block Party, an annual Minneapolis summertime musical bash and church fundraiser. The event, held since 1995, is scheduled for July 8 and 9.

The proposed boycott, which quickly has drawn 1,700 supporters, is meant to protest the Catholic Church’s support of a constitutional amendment that would restrict marriage to a man and a woman.

Others, though, including those at the Basilica, say the effort is off-base. No funds from the event, which annually draws in the neighborhood of 20,000 people, go to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which has been front and center in support of the amendment.

The Basilica’s issued a statement reacting to the threatened boycott: “As long-standing members of the community, we appreciate those who respectfully and peacefully share their point of view. We want the community to know that all proceeds from the Basilica Block Party benefit two areas: funding ongoing renovation efforts of the Basilica and supporting the St. Vincent de Paul outreach program that provides food and other services to those in need.”

Boycott origins
The Facebook page urging the boycott was put up by Jason Wermager, a Minneapolis photographer who was moved by a blog written by Nicole Burg, who has a gay brother and lesbian sister. She had watched with growing anger as Republicans pushed the marriage amendment, which will be on the ballot in November, 2012.

“As the bill was passing, I vowed to myself that I would start a blog and do some small thing each day until this is defeated,” Burg told MinnPost.

Burg didn’t initially set out to suggest a boycott of the 16-year-old Block Party. It was an exchange of emails with the Basilica’s pastor that, she says, pushed her to that step.

In those emails, Pastor John Bauer both defended the Church’s teaching on the restriction of marriage and “loving” all people.

Burg was not impressed, especially when Bauer used language from Catholic policy to describe gays and lesbians. The word he used was “condition,” as in homosexuality is “a condition.”

“My intention was to not go after the Church,” said Burg. “I wanted to keep my blog positive, not negative. I’m the type of person who doesn’t want to go to anti-war rallies. I want to go to peace rallies. But when I got that response that included the word ‘condition’ I was really upset.”

She wrote her blog, calling for the boycott.

That alone wouldn’t have attracted many people, Burg said. But then Wermager saw it and created a Facebook page.

“This was created to take a stand and let organizations, businesses and other groups know that it is NOT OK to support those that do not support equality and want to change the MN State Constitution to ban gay marriage,” Wermager wrote on the page. “To make a real change, we need to start taking action now. Do not wait until you vote in 2012.

“The Minnesota Catholic Church has made it their number 1 priority to define marriage in the State Constitution between one man and one woman, in turn, banning gay marriage.

“The Catholic Church has already spent millions of dollars in the production of Anti-Gay DVDs and lobbying the State Legislature to add this hateful amendment to the Minnesota Constitution.

“Please do not attend the Basilica Block Party this year. Please do not contribute any money to a Catholic Church fundraiser while they are spending millions of dollars to write discrimination into the MN constitution.”

Facebook feedback mixed
Feedback on the Facebook page has been mixed, with some suggesting, “Right cause, wrong target.”

One commenter said that the Basilica staff has been “reaching out” to those in the GLBT community, suggesting that at least some involved at the Basilica would like to see the church’s position changed.

“They are your ally,” the commenter wrote, “your one diplomat in your perceived enemy’s lair. Why would you attack the diplomat.”

Another commenter noted that the Block Party is an excellent opportunity to “talk to your neighbors and colleagues who may attend to educate them about the Discrimination Amendment.”

Burg said she appreciates the various positions being brought up on the Facebook page.

But she remains convinced that even though funds from the Block Party don’t go to the Archdiocese, this is a good place for individuals to make a statement.

“If the Archdiocese wasn’t spending all that money on DVDs (in support of the amendment), it could use the money to renovate the Basilica,” she said.

In fact, Burg is taking a step beyond a Block Party boycott. She has begun to contact corporate sponsors of the event, asking them to drop support.

“My intention all along is to show that one person can make a difference,” said Burg. “All people can do small acts.”

Obviously, the Church is not attempting to step into the background on an issue that will be raging across Minnesota with growing intensity.

In the most recent issue of the Catholic Spirit, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt wrote in his column in support of the amendment.

“Regrettably,” he wrote, “the media and some secular commentators have chosen to mischaracterize this measure as anti-gay, mean-spirited and prejudicial. This is not the case or the intent behind the initiative. … The Minnesota Catholic Conference, made up of the seven Catholic bishops from the state, support this amendment not for prejudicial or political reasons, but rather for reasons that are theological, biological and pastoral.”

Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the archdiocese, said the archbishop’s article has not created a great outpouring of reaction at archdiocesan offices. One woman, he said, believes the Church should take a stronger stand in opposition to homosexuality in general; another woman left a message praising the archbishop’s “loving,” tone, and the editor of the newsletter for the Archdiocese of San Francisco asked to reprint the piece.

This was a far cry from the firestorm that Nienstedt created last fall when, on his orders, the archdiocese sent DVDs opposing gay marriage to the homes of 400,000 Minnesota Catholics in an effort to affect Minnesota elections.