Marriage Equality poised to prevail, Catholic Church may lose ground in two states

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October 27, 2010
By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter
RHODE ISLAND–At a crucial 2010 midterm-elections crossroad, this is a tale of two states and the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy along the road to marriage equality Minnesota and Rhode Island, with respective 20 percent and 59 percent Catholic populations, have had two-term Republican governors adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage and equally vociferous church leadership vehemently against it.  But equality gridlock may soon be lifted as marriage equality proponents appear poised to prevail in key gubernatorial and legislative races regardless of church influence.

“If our endorsed candidates win, we can really move marriage,” said Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota, the state’s leading LGBT organization, explaining, “If the Democrats keep control of the House and Senate and Dayton wins, we’ll be able to make history in Minnesota and enact marriage equality.”

Meyer was referring to Democrat-Farm-Labor Party candidate Mark Dayton who leads Republican Tom Emmer by seven percentage points in a recent Minneapolis Star-Tribune poll among 999 likely voters, conducted between Oct. 18 and 21, using both cell phone and land-line phones.  The poll has sample-size margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

As the Star-Tribune reports, “Democrats could be closing in on their best chance to win the governor’s office in more than two decades, while Republicans may have a lot of convincing to do if they want to continue the Republican streak that Gov. Tim Pawlenty started eight years ago.”
A Rasmussen poll of 750 likely voters, conducted on Oct. 20, shows Dayton leading Emmer by three percentage points.

A third party Independent Tom Horner, also a marriage equality proponent, is polling between 10 to 14 points overall, a distant third.  While his support appears to be slipping, Real Clear Politics still calls the race a toss but notes, ”Dayton underperformed his polls substantially in the primary; there may be a similar phenomenon here.”

Meanwhile, very Catholic Rhode Island also stands at the threshold of marriage equality.  No less than four gubernatorial candidates favor equal marriage rights – Democrat Frank Caprio and three other Independents, including former Republican US Senator Lincoln Chafee who leads in the most recent Rasmussen poll of 750 likely voters by a seven-point margin over  Caprio.  While opposing same-sex marriage, Republican candidate John Robitaille favors civil unions.

“We are right on the cusp of marriage equality here in Rhode Island,” said Kathy J. Kushnir of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), a statewide advocacy group.  Recently MERI’s political action committee rolled out a list of endorsed candidates for the General Assembly, giving MERI’s stamp of approval to 29 out of 75 House races and 12 out of 38 Senate seats.  MERI’s PAC endorsement list includes current House Speaker, openly gay Gordon Fox.

“Our endorsement list is huge,” Kushnir said, explaining, “That’s just candidates on paper.”  MERI only endorses candidates who return a survey, she said.  “Some just don’t return questionnaires.”

The road to marriage in Rhode Island has been paved with lots of political hard work.  “We’ve been on the ground since last September,” Kushnir said, collecting 20,000 postcards and knocking on 30,000 doors.  The response rate for requesting postcard signatures is about 68 percent, she said.

Similar support has surfaced in public opinion sampling. A recent poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research that surveyed 502 likely Rhode Island voters from July 7 to 12 showed 59 percent support for allowing same-sex couples to marry legally in the state, with practicing Catholics favoring marriage equality by 57 percent. The polls sample size margin of error was plus or minus four percent.

A rising tide of public and legislative support notwithstanding, Minnesota Catholic Archbishop John C. Neinstedt and Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin remain resolute.

Tobin said same-sex marriage is “spiritually harmful” in a 2006 letter-to-the editor of the Providence Journal shortly after a Rhode Island lesbian couple, Wendy Becker and Mary Norton was legally married in Massachusetts.

More recently, Tobin said “homosexual activity is unnatural and gravely immoral. It’s offensive to Almighty God. It can never be condoned, under any circumstances. Gay marriage, or civil unions, would mean that our state is in the business of ratifying, approving such immoral activity.”

But this summer Tobin declined to speak at National Organization for Marriage (NOM) rally held in Providence, the state capital.  A recent state court ruling has cleared NOM to run anti gay-marriage  ads, provided the organization discloses its funding of the advertisements.  So far, NOM has not taken to the airways.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Neinstedt has infuriated many Catholics statewide by distributing a DVD to more than 400,000 of Minnesota Catholics in defense of traditional marriage. In the DVD, entitled “Preserving Marriage in Minnesota,” Neinstedt said, “At best so-called same-sex marriage is an untested social experiment, and at worst it poses a dangerous risk with potentially far-reaching consequences.”

Recently Neinstedt also took the unusual step of denying communion to college students wearing rainbow-colored ribbons during a Mass he said at the College of Saint Benedict and St. John’s University, a Catholic liberal arts school located 70 miles from Minneapolis.

One local gay Catholic activist and blogger, however, said the archbishop’s rhetoric and actions have “backfired.”  As Michael Bayly, who serves on the board of directors of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), a pastoral ministry, explained, “People who have never been vocal before are coming out in all sorts of ways to show their displeasure and outrage” over the DVD.

CPCSM and the local chapter of the Digntiy/USA, the nation’s oldest LGBT Catholic organization, are preparing to stage a human “circle of love” surrounding the Cathedral of St. Paul’s church during the noon Mass on Sunday, Oct. 31, explained Brian McNeill, president of Dignity/Twin Cities.

Inside the cathedral members of the Rainbow Sash Alliance (RSA) will don rainbow colored sashes during Mass even as they expect to be denied Communion.

“It’s important to be visibly present at the Eucharist as part of the people of God,” said McNeill, also a RSA coordinator. “The sash is a symbol of celebration,” he said, “and also a call to the archbishop to dialogue with us.  The bishop to Neinstedt, McNeill explained, “We still want to talk with you about your positions on LGBT issues and sexual ethics.”