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Psst, Sen. Marty: Invite the former priests to testify

They see the recognition of same-sex marriage rights as an integral part of the peace and justice work they’ve been doing for decades.

Former Priests for Marriage Equality include George Moudry, Bob Minton and Ed Kohler.
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

Sen. John Marty
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Capitol, Room 323
St Paul, Minn.

Dear Sen. Marty:

A wee follow up to our conversation the other day about the likely trajectory of Senate File 925, which would legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota. Among other things, you said that you anticipate the bill passing out of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee by March 22.

I realize that means time is tight, but I’d urge you to get your colleagues to extend an invitation to testify to Former Priests for Marriage Equality. Eighty-two former clerics who devoted a collective total of 1,026 years to the Roman Catholic Church, they’re too humble to invite themselves.

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Why am I badgering you, a straight Lutheran, about it? You’re one of the bill’s co-authors, but you’ve been introducing gay marriage legislation since 2008, when you were so lone a voice you were often dismissed. I’m sure your fellow lawmakers will defer.

Beyond that, I think their message will resonate with you personally. They see the recognition of same-sex marriage rights as an integral part of the peace and justice work they’ve been doing for decades.

Gathered more than 100 signatures

Indeed, last summer the same handful of local residents gathered signatures of more than 100 former priests opposed to the effort to amend Minnesota’s constitution to permanently outlaw same-sex unions.

You can expect their new statement [PDF] to land in every legislator’s inbox in the next couple of days. The names of many of the signatories are well known in both the church and civil-rights communities.

A priest for 23 years, John Estrem was rector of the St. Paul Cathedral and went on to become director of Catholic Charities. Project for Pride in Living founder Joe Selvaggio’s name is a staple in social-justice circles.

A priest for 48 years, Ed Flahavan was head of the Archdiocese’s social-justice agency, the Urban Affairs Commission (UAC), and a member of former Gov. Rudy Perpich’s Task Force on Lesbian and Gay Minnesotans.

Labor studies professor Bill Moore was chief of staff of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, and before that education and organizing liaison for the UAC. Science Museum of Minnesota Community Relations Manager Paul Mohrbacher is also a playwright and novelist.

Charles Pilon is also an author; his debut novel, “Waiting for Mozart,” deals with “the sometimes lovely, often discordant strains resonating throughout the Catholic Church in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council.”

Dick McCarthy was the longtime head of Merrick Community Center on St. Paul’s East Side and a founder of the East Side Neighborhood Development Company.

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The power of personal conversations

Well known though these gentlemen are, the real reason I think they’d make a great addition to a hearing roster is because the stories they tell about their own evolutions on this issue and about their signature-collecting efforts are the very embodiment of the strategy of holding personal conversations.

First, there were conversations with GLBT loved ones. George Moudry has had gay friends for decades, but he was still surprised that his two lesbian nieces were so thankful for his public opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment.

“You get skinned by some people and thanked by others,” he said. “But that’s the pluralistic society we live in.”

Ed Kohler, too, credits personal relationships for his desire to get involved. “My evolution developed more quickly because of the gay people I know,” he said. “That’s the big one.”

“I think the reason for me was I could see the harm it was doing,” agreed Bob Minton. “The suicides, people being murdered.”

And then there were the conversations they had with other former priests whom they contacted about both statements. Four died between the first and the second, and only a few said no.

A big step

“It’s a very big step to go from opposing the amendment to supporting gay marriage,” said Kohler. “You could be against the amendment for a variety of reasons.”

Most replied right away. “I heard from one who said, ‘This is a matter of justice,’” said Moudry. “’I don’t have to see the statement. We’ve been together on this for 40 years.”

Kohler was surprised not to hear right away from another who had signed the first statement. Kohler was thinking about it when he watched President Barack Obama’s inaugural address; he was pretty sure his friend was watching, too.

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“I was astonished [Obama] mentioned gay marriage,” said Kohler. “It was about an hour later I got around to calling my friend. He said, ‘Okay, sign me up. If Obama’s for it I suppose I should be, too.’”

Not a single signatory mentioned Archbishop John Niensted’s vocal support for the proposed amendment or the church donations that underwrote the campaign, the former priests said.

“It’s coming from a value that’s deeply held,” said Kohler. “That’s part of the fun of it.”

Finally, Sen. Marty, you and they have pie in common. You write passionately about many issues for the Apple Pie Alliance. The former priests have done much of their business over pie in your very district.

Perhaps you all can discuss it over a slice or two.