By Paula Ruddy
The Archbishop has issued a statement in the wake of the defeat of his relentless campaign to make sure gay and lesbian citizens of Minnesota will never get equal protection of the civil marriage laws. He says “It has never been the aim of the Catholic Church to alienate anyone.”
Let me try to understand this: He wants to deprive some people of any possibility of living a socially accepted, legally sanctioned, married life, and they are not supposed to take that personally?
He initiated an eight year attack, pitting a heterosexual majority against a homosexual minority to prevent the democratic process from working in the minority’s favor. This attempt to limit marriage by constitutional definition ultimately failed on November 6, 2012. Resisting it took a tremendous expenditure of time, energy, and money. The moral cost may never be recovered. And he never meant to alienate anyone?
Look at the history: There has been a law in Minnesota specifically prohibiting same-sex marriage since 1997. Did John Nienstedt need to do anything to prevent gay marriage? No, he didn’t, but he decided a preemptive move was necessary to prevent any future “activists, politicians, and state court judges” from changing the status quo. So he mounted his campaign to amend the Minnesota constitution with a letter signed by all the Minnesota bishops in 2004. The letter defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman “with no legal equivalents.” No legal rights at all for the homosexual minority.
In 2006, the DFL controlled the senate judiciary committee, and they kept (then) state senator Michelle Bachman’s amendment bill from a floor vote. So it did not get on the ballot. A legislator’s oath to uphold the constitution prevents him/her from putting basic human rights of a minority on the ballot for a majority to vote on. The 14th amendment of the U.S. constitution provides that the state shall not deny any person equal protection of the law. If heterosexual people have the legal right to marry, there must be good reasons to deny homosexual people that same right. Whether there are good reasons is a question for the legislators themselves to answer. It is not for a majority of voters to decide whether a minority can have equal protection of the law. I remember Senators John Marty and Dean Johnson holding that moral line in the senate judiciary committee in 2006. The Archbishop does not seem to understand this basic principle of equality in a democratic constitutional republic, or he pretends not to. I find that alienating.
With a Republican majority in the state houses in 2011, the amendment was the Minnesota Catholic Conference's top legislative priority. The Archbishop sent priests to hearings to testify for the amendment and paid lobbyists to talk to legislators. Despite their oath to uphold the constitution, the legislators put the bill on the ballot for 2012. The phrase “with no legal equivalents” had been dropped. When the Archbishop framed same-sex marriage as a threat to straight marriage and the common good, the majority was set up against the minority to assure the passage of the amendment.
During all these years and especially during 2012, the minority had to defend against this attack on a right it didn’t even have but might possibly gain in the future. It was a strenuous, expensive, and sometimes demoralizing effort. It caused anxiety, anger, and grief in both the No voters and the Yes voters. Even in the little phoning I did to ask people to vote NO, I felt rage that justice depended on people who seemed to have no awareness of the effects of their vote on other people’s lives. For them a YES vote, easily done, would have no consequences.
Some Catholics suffered conflict between their consciences and what their church was telling them to do. Family ties were strained. Priests were told to be silent on the issue. Parish staff who didn’t agree had to “stay under the radar.” Some people could not bear to pray the Archbishop’s mandatory prayer or hear their pastor’s political instruction at Sunday Mass. Catholics had to hear the leadership of their church ridiculed in the public forum. Some people left the Roman Catholic Church for good.
The moral cost, the cost in human dignity, of this campaign was enormous—and alienating.
Yes, there were also enormous joys in the gay community and its allies working together. The spirit among the people of faith community was inspiring. And thanks to the good sense and fairness of Minnesota voter, straight and gay, the Archbishop’s campaign was defeated.
But isn’t it outrageous now for the Archbishop to say in his statement that this was a normal give and take in the democratic process? He sees himself as a good citizen who has done his best in a fair and honorable contest for the common good. I think it is instead like a man who has brutally tried to cripple and rob you, coming to shake hands after he has finally failed, congratulating himself on his attempt on your life. He even says he isn’t finished with you yet. But try not to be alienated.
Is there any way to call Archbishop John C. Nienstedt to account for the damage he has done? Would we be justified in trying to do so? What is the common ground he speaks of? Many of us begged him repeatedly to reconsider his strategy to “strengthen marriage,” but with absolute power and Rome’s approval, he has no incentive to hear any other point of view.
Or is this just another occasion to shrug off the banality of evil and put up with all the cynical comments about bishops? Anyone?
Related Off-site Links:
A Call for Healing in Minnesota – Eric Fought (EricFought.com, November 12, 2012).
Chastened Catholic Bishops Told They Have to Reform Themselves – David Gibson (The Washington Post, November 12, 2012).
Bishops Stay Course on Gay Marriage Fight – Rachel Zoll (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, November 12, 2012).