Speaking on the south stairs of the state Capitol, Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis John Nienstedt and some three dozen Minnesota clergy Tuesday urged voters to approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage here.
“This is a positive affirmation,” said Nienstedt. “This is not intended to be hurtful to anyone.”
As the event was taking place, the campaign to defeat the proposed amendment began airing a TV ad featuring a Catholic, Republican couple explaining why they will vote against it. Savage residents Kim and John Canny attend Pax Christi church in Eden Prairie. Their views changed, they say in the spot, when a gay couple moved into their neighborhood.
Nienstedt has been one of the ballot question’s staunchest backers. In April of 2010, he penned an op-ed for the Star Tribune calling for a constitutional amendment. He followed up five months later by mailing a DVD to 400,000 Twin Cities Catholics urging them to vote for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer and calling same-sex marriage a “dangerous risk to society.”
Directives to priests and parishes
A year ago, the archbishop told a private gathering of priests that he expected any who disagreed with the church’s position or actions to stay silent. And the archdiocese has directed parishes to read his statements on the election during Sunday services.
Many congregations are quietly failing to comply, however, and groups of Roman Catholics who are torn between their support for gay rights and their love of their church are meeting in Protestant churches to consider the issue.
Recently, the archbishop has adopted a more conciliatory tone. “Our brothers and sisters living with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God who must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” he wrote in his most recent letter.
The amendment, Nienstedt said at the Capitol rally, is intended to recognize marriage’s traditional definition, not discriminate.
Other clergy who shared the podium were more forceful.
Marriage ‘needs to be strengthened, not redefined’
“I’m here today because there are some who would turn this into an emotional argument over civil rights,” said Troy Dobbs, a pastor at Grace Church in Eden Prairie. “This is a tremendous slight to those who have suffered true oppression.”
Marriage, Dobbs added, “needs to be strengthened, not redefined.”
Shiloh Temple International Ministries Bishop Richard D. Howell Jr. said his “standards are measured by the word of God, not by the politicians of the day.”
Also speaking were the Rev. Jerry McAfee of Minneapolis’s New Salem Baptist church, Donald Fondow, president of the Minnesota North District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Rev. Sergio Amezcua of Brooklyn Park Evangelical Free Church and others. Statements were read from several denominations whose leaders could not be present.
They were joined by several dozen supporters who periodically chimed in with calls of “amen,” or “yes,” and by a lone guitar-playing protester who sang from across the parking lot as the ministers spoke.
At the conclusion of the press conference, Nienstedt was escorted to a waiting car while most of the clergy and their guests headed into the Capitol for a private meeting.
‘We’re called by our faith to stand up’
A handful stayed behind to answer questions from reporters. Their advocacy, they said, is moral and spiritual, not political.
“We didn’t invent this fight,” said Erich Rutten, director of Campus Ministry at the University of St. Thomas. “We’re called by our faith to stand up in the public sphere.”
Right now, said the Rev. Jeff Evans, pastor at Christ Church Twin Cities in Minnetonka and a coordinator of the vote yes campaign’s religious activities, there is very little restriction on what clergy can say about the proposed amendment.
“If activist judges and rogue legislators have their way,” he added, “we could be in trouble teaching from the pulpit.”
One of the arguments being advanced by Minnesota for Marriage, the group promoting the amendment, to which the Minnesota Catholic Conference belongs, is that failure to pass the ban will result in churches being sanctioned if they refuse to perform same-sex marriages.
Gay marriage is illegal in Minnesota. If that were to change, the law would affect civil marriages; churches could still decide who to unite in religious marriage.