Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Marriage Amendment

By Don Conroy

Editor's Note: This article is also published at The Progressive Catholic Voice.

In November, the voters of Minnesota will be faced with a proposed amendment to the state constitution that, if passed, will restrict legal marriage in Minnesota to one man and one woman. The proposed amendment raises a number of interesting questions regarding the history, the meaning, and the purpose of marriage as an institution in human society. Of even more significance perhaps is this question – what would be the religious, social, and personal consequences of excluding a significant percent of our adult citizens from the advantages of legal marriage?

Marriage, like any other human institution, evolves. Its shape has depended on its geographic location and its historic moment. What constituted the presence of the marriage bond in Europe was not agreed on until the Gratian Decretals, c.1140. This bond was considered a sacrament, a sacred symbol between Christ and the People Of God, the Church, and thus indissoluble. This understanding of marriage was questioned by the Reformers of the 16th century, and divorce became a social reality in Europe.

The Industrial Revolution introduced another dimension as central to marriage; namely, a decline in the roles of the extended family network and the spread of "the conjugal system", a primary emphasis on the nuclear family unit of parents and their children.

In a very recent study, The Social Conquest Of Earth, Edward O. Wilson, the Nobel Laureate evolutionary biologist, raises these questions: which living species have spread throughout the whole of the earth, and what is the most important characteristic they have in common? He concludes that those species that have spread are a handful of insects, ants, bees, termites, et al. and humans. For all these species, the single most important common characteristic is their need for a safe and comfortable nest. For humans, this nest is the family.

Wilson's explanation for this conclusion is that these species have a genetic mutation that leads to what he calls "eusocial evolution", natural selection of groups as opposed to individual natural selection that restricts the species to procreation and protection of the nest. Group selection, which he refers to as a "general theory of inclusive fitness" allows for expansion and broader emigration and more complexity in the species. Eusocial evolved species require diversity in the social structure of the organization to function well. The precursors of today's humans, those species that did not survive to the present, did not develop the eusocial characteristic and were rendered extinct by the more developed species.

The safe and comfortable nest for humans is the family, and its marital component is and has been varied. The classic study Social Structure by George Murdock, published in 1949, pointed out that 193 out of 243 societies, the sample of his study, were polygamous. It was only 67 years prior to his study that polygamy was declared illegal in the U.S. by the Edmonds Act of 1882. In today's Western world, there are three meanings attributed to marriage by sociologists; the sacred, the social, and the personal. "At present, therefore, there is lack of uniform opinion as to the basic meaning of marriage." (The American Family, Ruth Cavan). The purposes of marriage are varied and cover a range from accomplishing religious values and supporting social order to providing personal happiness.

Today we confront another development in our understanding of family, the inclusion of same-sex couples in our social, personal, but not necessarily religious definition of marriage. What consequence, if any, would the inclusion of same-sex couples have on the family structure? Would the meaning of family, our safe, comfortable and developing nest, be significantly altered or even lost, as has been claimed (Nienstadt's "letter to the priests")? What would be the religious, social, and personal consequences of excluding a significant percent of our adult citizens from the advantages of legal marriage? These are the questions Minnesota voters face as they go to the polls in November to vote on the proposed amendment.

Donald R. Conroy, PhD, retired psychologist and marriage and family therapist, is a member of the newly formed Council of the Baptized, a collegial voice for Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Formerly a Catholic priest ordained in 1955, Don is married to Mary K., with three grown and married children and seven grandchildren.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"We Have Work to Do"

A young Catholic shares his thoughts on the state of the church

Note: The following address was delivered by Joe Kruse at Catholics for Marriage Equality MN's August 15 event, "I Do! Believe in Marriage Equality."

My name is Joe Kruse. I am a Catholic Worker who lives in an intentional community/house of hospitality in South Minneapolis. I am also Catholic, born and raised. Several times, I have gone and come back to my faith tradition. I’ve been at times proud and at other times horribly embarrassed to call myself Catholic. But for the past three years I have consistently found an immense deal of comfort and motivation in my identity as a Catholic. I have found, at its roots, a set of ideas based on revolutionary love. I have found in its unique traditions, symbolism, and images a connection to my sense of home and family. As a result, I hope to call myself Catholic for a long time to come.

However, I am one of the few young, non-conservative Catholics I know. It seems that most American Catholics my age are usually socially conservative, especially when it comes to equal rights for LGBTQ people. The more inclusive Vatican II tradition that many older Catholics know, is not the message that my generations’ Catholics are hearing. Most Catholic institutions we were raised in seem to be joined at the hip with right-wing politics and fervent evangelism.

I fear that if we cannot change the face of Catholicism in our country, my generation will cease to claim the identity. American Catholicism will dwindle as a cultural force if it does not change its focus almost completely. Many Catholics I know are simply tired of even trying to change the hierarchy, the institution, the Catholic system. A rigid hierarchy composed almost exclusively of white, celibate men often seems too backward, too archaic to even attempt to change.

So people leave the Catholic Church. We see it happen all the time, especially among my peers. Maybe the Catholic Church in America will shrink, maybe it will disappear, maybe it won't. But here is one thing I know for sure: there are those that believe in a Catholicism founded on a deep love, a love meant to challenge us; there are those that believe in a non-violent, loving Jesus Christ. And I will never forget that this is what my tradition is built on. It's simple.

One of my three brothers is gay. I have seen him struggle with the church and our families connection to it. His pain runs deep and I will never truly know how the Catholic institutions have scarred him. But I do know that I love him, and that the Catholicism I believe says he is just as holy and human as me. Any structure that denies my brother the same beauty that I hope surrounds my marriage, I will work tirelessly to bring down. Catholics of Minnesota should be warned: if we don’t change the image of our Catholicism, the hearts and minds of tomorrow will be unable to call themselves Catholic. The world is changing, the world is becoming more open and loving, and American Catholicism needs to catch up. We have work to do.

See also the previous Sensus Fidelium posts:
For All the Children
Catholic Q&A on the Minnesota 'Marriage Amendment'

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

For All the Children . . .

"For All the Children," the powerful and inspiring music video made by over 300 Catholics in April of this year, was premiered last night at a special C4ME-MN event entitled "I Do! Believe in the Freedom to Marry."

Please share this video far and wide through your online social networks. Also, if you were part of the making of this video and/or present at last night's premiere, please consider sharing your thoughts and experiences in a written piece that we can post on Sensus Fidelium. Reflections and articles can be e-mailed to

Finally, for images and commentary on C4ME-MN's "I Do! Believe in the Freedom to Marry" event, visit this album on our Facebook page.

"For All the Children": Music and lyrics by David Lohman.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Catholics Rally for Freedom to MarryStar Tribune (August 19, 2012).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

An Update on Tonight's Event

C4ME-MN's "I Do! Believe in the Freedom to Marry" will be taking place this evening (7:00-8:30) in Loring Park as originally planned. Don't forget your blanket and/or lawn chair! Also, yard signs will be available!

We look forward to seeing you this evening at Loring Park for an inspiring night of solidarity and entertainment!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Yard Signs Now Available!

An eye-catching yard sign declaring "Another Catholic Voting No" is C4ME-MN's latest effort to get the word out that Catholics can in good conscience vote 'no' on the Minnesota 'marriage amendment.' As you know, the 'marriage amendment' refers to the November 6, 2012 ballot initiative that asks Minnesotans to vote on limiting the freedom to marry by amending the state constitution to define marriage as “solely between one man and one woman.” (For more about the amendment, see here, here and here.)

Because of our non-profit status, our yard signs are not for sale. However, a $10 donation per yard sign is recommended and would be greatly appreciated.

For information about ordering and picking up signs in St. Paul,
contact Mary Kay Orman at 
or call 651-699-1671.

For Minneapolis ordering and pick-up information,
contact Michael Bayly at 
or call 612-201-4534.

Burnsville and area residents, contact
Rose McMurray at 612-710-8327.

Winona residents, contact
Leslie Hittner at

Red Wing residents, contact
Tom Bottolene at

St. Cloud residents, contact
Danielle Bunting at

To view and/or order our DVD, Catholics for Marriage Equality, click here.

NOTE: Our yard sign was first unveiled at C4ME-MN's "I Do! Believe in the Freedom to Marry" event on August 15, 2012. For photos and commentary on this event, click here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Catholic Q&A on the Minnesota 'Marriage Amendment'

Following are concise answers to nine frequently asked questions about the Minnesota 'marriage amendment.' We hope these responses will complement the previously published Tips for Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality, a resource that offers more in-depth responses.

1. What is the ‘marriage amendment’?

The 'marriage amendment' refers to the November 6, 2012 ballot initiative that will ask Minnesotans to vote on whether or not the state constitution should be amended so as to define marriage as “solely between one man and one woman.”

2. If the amendment is passed, how will it affect Minnesota law?

It will have no effect as Minnesota already bans civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. It will, however, make it virtually impossible for the courts to grant civil marriage rights to same-sex couples or for the state legislature to pass legislation in favor of such rights in the future.

3. If the amendment is defeated, how will it affect the Roman Catholic Church?

There would be no effect whatsoever. If the ‘marriage amendment’ is defeated in November, same-sex civil marriage will still be illegal in Minnesota. And if civil marriage rights were one day extended to same-sex couples, our nation’s separation of church and state would guarantee that churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, would always have the freedom to choose whom they marry.

4. Since the bishops are strongly urging a ‘yes’ vote, can a faithful Catholic vote ‘no’?

Yes, a faithful Catholic can vote ‘no.’ This is because our tradition teaches that conscience is the highest norm and that we are to follow our conscience even in opposition to official church authority. In 1968, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) expressed the Church’s understanding of the primacy of conscience: “Above the pope as an expression of the binding claim of church authority stands one’s own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of church authority.”

5. Why are the bishops telling Catholics to vote ‘yes’?

The bishops see the granting of civil marriage rights to same-sex couples as a threat to the meaning of marriage and to the church’s religious liberty. In truth, however, in their support of the ‘marriage amendment,’ the bishops have made numerous unsubstantiated claims and provoked false fears. They warn, for instance, that if civil marriage rights are extended to same-sex couples, churches will be forced to perform sacramental marriage for a gay couple. This is untrue. (See response to Q. 3)

6. Why are many Catholics conflicted or committed to voting ‘no’?

The reasons are numerous. Many are torn between the urgings of the hierarchy to support the amendment and their wanting to support the gay people they know and, in many cases, lovingly accept. Many are unconvinced by the arguments of the bishops, recognizing instead that supporting legal recognition of adult, same-sex unions as marriages does not go against any church teaching. It is a prudential decision regarding what is best for the common good in a pluralistic society. For example, Catholic teaching opposes divorce, but this does not translate into an obligation to work for the repeal of secular divorce laws or prevention of their passage by a constitutional amendment banning civil divorce.

7. Doesn’t the Bible condemn homosexual relations?

Modern biblical scholarship approved by the Church shows that passages in Leviticus and elsewhere condemn homosexual rape and pagan worship involving sexual rituals. Since the biblical writers had no concept of homosexual orientation, the Bible does not condemn loving, committed same-sex relationships.

8. Why use the word ‘marriage’ to describe same-sex unions?

In our society it is only the word ‘marriage’ that conveys the joy, connection, and deep commitment that is made between two people who love one another. In addition, civil marriage automatically provides the rights and responsibilities of 515 statutes in Minnesota law to opposite-sex couples and families. That these are denied to same-sex couples and families strikes many as hurtful and unfair.

9. The bishops insist that same-sex marriage will harm children. Is this true?

Because the bishops are not calling for the large number of children already being raised by same-sex couples to be removed from their families, many Catholics question the integrity of the claim that children are in danger. Research has consistently shown that lesbian and gay parents do not differ from heterosexuals in their parenting skills, and that their children do not show any deficits compared to children raised by heterosexual parents. It is the quality of the parenting that predicts children’s psychological and social adjustment, not the parents’ sexual orientation or gender. It also concerns many Catholics that by denying same-sex couples the right to marry, the State is reinforcing and perpetuating the stigma historically associated with homosexuality. According same-sex couples inferior status relative to opposite-sex couples gives rise to ostracism, harassment, discrimination, and violence. For Catholics, such treatment is unacceptable. The bishops themselves teach that the “intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. 1986.)

See also the previous Sensus Fidelium posts:
Fr. Bob Pierson: Why Catholics Can Vote 'No'
Marriage Amendment Not In Best Interest of Children and Families
Theological Considerations Behind Opposition to the Proposed Minnesota 'Marriage Amendment'
Tide is Turning on Public Perception of Same–Sex Marriage
A Catholic Case for Same-Sex Marriage
Catholics Lead the Way! – The Latest Statistics on Religious Support for Marriage Equality
A Few Questions . . .

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Sneak Peek

With a little over a week to go before C4ME-MN's August 15 "I DO! Believe in the Freedom to Marry" event, here's a sneak peek at the video we'll be premiering . . .

See also the previous Sensus Fidelium posts:
Save the Date!
Catholics Sing Their Support for Marriage Equality
"The Holy Spirit Descended Upon Them . . ."

And don't forget C4ME-MN's previous video series,

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Celebrate Marriage for All

By Linda Boyd

Note: This op-ed was first published August 5, 2012 by Inform, the "forum of Fargo/Moorhead."

I don’t think I’m that old, but then I realize that in my lifetime I have witnessed extraordinary events in civil rights history.

Not so long ago, it was illegal for people of different races to marry. (It says so in the Bible, said the supporters of miscegenation laws.)

Not so long ago, it was proper and fitting for women to have fewer civil rights than men. (It says so in the Bible, said the foes of the women’s rights movement.)

Of course, I am not quite so old to have experienced the defense of slavery or the persecution of Galileo for proclaiming that the Earth was round and revolved around the sun.

Now we are at the very cusp of another sweeping societal change. For the first time, more than 50 percent of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal.

Foes of gay marriage cite the Bible, of course, as their ultimate authority. “I agree with 3,000 years of recorded history. I believe marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman,” stated Mitt Romney. That’s a bit rich coming from a man whose own great-grandfather left the country to live in Mexico so that he could have multiple wives.

Today, many churches and people of faith are offering a different take on the matter. Two months ago more than 120 religious leaders met in Minnesota to form Clergy United for All Families to speak out against the proposed gay marriage amendment. Represented were Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Jews, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Quakers and more. “I will be voting no because of my faith, not in spite of my faith,” said the Rev. Kelly Chatman of Redeemer Lutheran Church of Minneapolis.

Marriage is a civil right, a contract offered and recognized by the state. Today, people of different races can marry. People past childbearing age can marry. People can marry, divorce and remarry. People can marry while in a drunken stupor and later have it annulled. But there is one group of people who cannot legally marry in most states: two people of the same gender.

Homosexuality is no more a sin than left-handedness (which was once considered a sin, and is the root of the word “sinister”), according to many leading theologians. There is no logical or humane reason to deny the civil right of marriage based on inborn sexual orientation. Of course, churches can, and do, set their own rules regarding the religious sacrament of marriage, and will always retain that right.

As we contemplate civil rights progress through the centuries, one thing is remarkably consistent: Those most vehemently opposed to extending civil rights to others cite biblical authority as their justification. It’s curious, though - once a civil right is granted, religious opposition fades away. Certainly, today’s churches no longer passionately defend the institution of slavery from the pulpit as God’s will. And it is my fervent hope that I will live to see the day when marriage among any and all of God’s beloved children is celebrated in our society.

Linda Boyd is a Fargo School Board member, a former city commissioner, and executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra.

See also the previous Sensus Fidelium posts:
Fr. Bob Pierson: Why Catholics Can Vote 'No'
Marriage Amendment Not In Best Interest of Children and Families
Theological Considerations Behind Opposition to the Proposed Minnesota 'Marriage Amendment'
Tide is Turning on Public Perception of Same–Sex Marriage
A Catholic Case for Same-Sex Marriage
Catholics Lead the Way! – The Latest Statistics on Religious Support for Marriage Equality
A Few Questions . . .

No Faith Should Be Able to Impose Marriage Policies

By Barbara Stark

Note: The following was first published August 5, 2012 as a letter to the editor of the Duluth News Tribune.

[Frank Schuber is] an out-of-state political consultant [who] has come to Minnesota to further what he calls his “personal crusade:” to pass a constitutional amendment to limit the freedom to marry in Minnesota. He has come to town to impose the policies of one faith — his faith — on everyone. That is not how our secular society is supposed to work.

The marriage amendment on the November ballot is simple. It will limit the freedom to marry, and it is a bad idea.

We all understand commitments. Our commitments to each other and to our families are the building blocks of our society. Commitment means taking care of one another, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. In fundamental ways, taking care of each other requires our commitments have legal standing. We need to be sure that if we purchase a house and make a home together it will continue to be a home for our loved ones after we pass away. We need to be sure we can arrange for insurance coverage for our loved ones. We need to be sure our pension plans will cover our loved ones.

Commitments are personal, but they have practical consequences. When individuals make deep commitments to each other and want to care for each other, they should be encouraged. The marriage amendment will stand in the way of the most important commitment of all — marriage — for many Minnesotans.

No faith group should be permitted to impose its particular views of commitment on the entire community.

Do not limit the freedom to marry.

I plan to vote “no” on the marriage amendment in November.