October 18, 2010

Catholic Leaders in the Midwest Take on Same-Sex Marriage Debate

Catholic bishops in Minnesota and Iowa have entered the pre-election fray over same-sex marriage.

On Sept. 22, Catholic bishops in Minnesota mailed more than 400,000 DVDs to Catholics across the state in support of traditional marriage, according to the Star Tribune. Critics of the DVD campaign have said that the video amounts to an implicit endorsement of one of the state’s three gubernatorial candidates, Republican Tom Emmer, a current member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, who opposes same-sex marriage, the Star Tribunereported. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton, who represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2007, supports marriage rights for gay couples, according to Minneapolis Public Radio. Independent candidateTom Horner, a business owner who served as press secretary to Minnesota’s former U.S. Senator David Durenberger in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, also supports same-sex marriage, the public radio station reported. Minnesota law prohibits same-sex marriage and same-sex civil unions (see the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library for more information).

The archbishop of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese, John Nienstedt, has defended the video, saying that it is part of an initiative to educate Minnesota Catholics about the church’s teachings on marriage, according to ABC News. But a group of six individuals who describe themselves as “mostly suburban, mostly middle aged, married Catholics” has launched a campaign to return the DVDs to Nienstedt. The group plans to send the DVDs they collect to the archbishop with a letter encouraging him to make other issues, such as helping the poor, his highest priority, according to the organization’s website,Return the DVD.

On Oct. 10, about two dozen Catholics and non-Catholics who oppose the archdiocese’s DVD mailing and support same-sex marriage protested outside the Cathedral of St. Paul, Minnesota Public Radio reported. In response, a spokesman for the archdiocese said the archbishop and other church leaders stand behind the DVD and support gay people, but not same-sex marriage, according to the public radio station.

Bishops in Iowa are encouraging Catholics to vote “yes” on Nov. 2 on a ballot proposal to convene a state constitutional convention, the Ventura County Star  reported. The Iowa Catholic Conference issued a statement saying, “A ‘yes’ vote on this measure will allow Catholics and others to work for a marriage amendment to the Iowa constitution. This amendment would affirm the traditional understanding that marriage is a union of one man and one woman,” according to the Globe Gazette.  (There are several other issues that could be addressed at a constitutional convention, such as term limits for state legislators, the Sioux City Journal reported.) Same-sex marriage has been legal in Iowa since April 2009, when Iowa’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying it violated the state’s constitution, as reported in The Washington Post.

According to recent polls by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 48% of Americans oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 42% favor it. This is the first year in which opposition to same-sex marriage has dropped below 50% since Pew Research Center surveys began asking the question in 1996.

Another recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that more than a third of those who report having an opinion on same-sex marriage say that their religious beliefs are the biggest influence on their views (35%). Among those who say religious beliefs are the most important influence on their opinion on same-sex marriage, only 6% favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry, but among those who cite some other influence (such as education, views of friends and family or a personal experience), two-thirds (66%) are in favor.

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