A Civil Discussion on Civil Marriage

January 23, 2012

Catholicism plays heavily in the marriage equality debate in Minnesota. The state will have a referendum vote in November on whether or not to accept a constitutional ban against same-sex marriage. We’ve already reported on some of the ways that Catholics–both those for and those against marriage equality–have tried to sway the vote’s outcome:  mailing 400, 000 anti-marriage equality DVDs,  providing pro-marriage equality DVDs to all interested, offering prayers both for and against marriage equality, the archbishop silencing priests from supporting marriage equality, one brave priest who has ignored the archbishop’s gag order.  As the year progresses, we are sure to see more actions from both sides.

Gail Rosenblum of the Minneapolis Star Tribune tells a different story of two Catholic Minnesotans who are on opposite sides of the marriage debate, Denny Smith and Tom Struthers.  Instead or arguing, however, these two men have decided to sit down and hear each other out.

Rosenblum describes the men this way:

“They have a lot in common. Both were raised Catholic. Both are happily married; Smith for 43 years, Struthers for 23 years. Both are fathers. Struthers’ children are 19 and 16. Smith’s three kids are grown. One of them is gay. That son, Kyle, and Kyle’s partner of 17 years, Joe, can’t live together in the United States because Joe is from the Philippines. When Joe’s student visa expired, he was forced to leave the United States, which wouldn’t have happened if they could marry. “

Rosenblum’s article relates the conversation that these two men had together when she and they decided to have a conversation over a cup of coffee.  It is definitely worth reading the entire article  to learn about the real human concerns that people have in this debate.  It’s a helpful reminder, too,  about how much education is needed for people on issues of homosexuality and LGBT issues–especially for Catholics.

The article’s most amazing insight is the description of  their main area of agreement:

” ‘I don’t know all the answers,’  Smith said. ‘No matter what, compassion is the way to go.’

“Struthers nodded. ‘Compassion is trying to understand another’s point of view. If people can come together with diverse opinions and there is a change, that’s among the richest of human experiences. I either am changed or, at least, I see his side of the story. Religious faiths will be examined on this issue,’ Struthers said. “

This passage serves as a reminder that the real goal of dialogue may not be to just change minds, but to change hearts.

It was refreshing to learn that real conversation is going on, and I hope that more people–in Minnesota and everywhere–use this strategy of simple civil conversation to work through this issue.

As the year progresses, we will try to keep you informed about the marriage equality debates around the country. A good source of information on the Minnesota debate is www.theprogressivecatholicvoice.blogspot.com.

UPDATE:  Commenter Jim Smith of DignityUSA, who lives in Minnesota, has offered two additional websites for news about Catholics and marriage equality in that state: http://www.c4me.org and its accompanying blog “Sensus Fidelium” at http://www.c4me-mn.blogspot.com .

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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