New Jersey Initiates Marriage Equality, But Battle for Permanence Begins

October 7, 2013

New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage leaders at a press conference

Anti-marriage equality organizations have formed the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage as LGBT advocates seek to legalize equal marriage rights. Once again, Catholics are on center stage as the debate over marriage equality intensifies in that state from both judicial and legislative angles.

The Coalition includes a handful of conservative organizations, as well as the Knights of Columbus State Council, the New Jersey Catholic Conference, and the National Organization for Marriage which has close Catholic ties. On Top Magazine reports Coalition members are already unleashing anti-gay remarks, with a Knights leader comparing marriage equality to polygamy and incest, as others have done in the past. As for alternatives, the Coalition echoes Governor Chris Christie in calling for a state referendum on the issue.

The anti-marriage equality effort is in response to a  judge’s September 27th court order that New Jersey issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples beginning October 21. Judge Mary Jacobson claimed same-gender couples would be denied equal protection under the law if the state continued with merely civil unions, as they would be unable to receive federal benefits in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decisions in June.

Governor Chris Christie, a Catholic, has appealed the ruling to the state’s Supreme Court. With 2016 presidential aspirations, Christie has attempted to welcome LGBT rights in a broader sense and continue opposing marriage that would appeal to both moderates and Republicans respectively.

Judge Jacobson’s court order comes as the legislative side heats up as well. reports on reactions from pro-equality leaders who continue working on passing a marriage law, even as legal battles remain:

“Advocacy groups and Democratic state officials reacted quickly, cheering Jacobson’s decision and urging Christie to let it stand unchallenged. And vowing to fight it if Christie did appeal…

“We have been saying it for months and it stands true today: through litigation or legislation, we will win the dignity of marriage this year,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality. “We just won the first round through litigation and we will continue to fight until we guarantee marriage for all New Jersey couples.”

“Udi Ofer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said a coalition of groups pushing for gay marriage would also keep pressing state lawmakers for an override of Christie’s gay-marriage veto last year. The Democratic-controlled Legislature is nearly a dozen votes shy of being able to overturn the veto.”

Nearly 40% of New Jersey’s population identifies as Catholic, meaning the voice of Catholics will matter in speaking out to legislators and voting in a referendum, if one emerges. New Jersey also offers a prime moment for the Catholic hierarchy, Knights of Columbus, and those anti-equality lay people to heed Pope Francis’ new words and stop obsessing over marriage when true injustices abound.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Update on Catholic Financing of Marriage Equality Opposition

November 19, 2012

Church financing to oppose marriage equality is in the news once again as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) updated its report on Catholic funding to reveal that Catholic institutions provided $2 million this year to try to forestall marriage for lesbian and gay couples in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State.

An earlier version of this report was released before the election. The full, updated report is available on the HRC website.

In a statement announcing the report update, HRC noted:

“The historic results of last week’s elections only highlight the growing disconnect between the fair-minded Romany Catholic laity and the anti-LGBT Church hierarchy. A 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that nearly 60 percent of Catholics support marriage equality. In fact, polling indicates marriage equality is one of the least important issues Catholics are currently concerned with. That same poll, from Belden Russonello, found that 83 percent of Catholics feel their bishops should not influence their vote.”

The report breaks down the funding by state.  It complements a report by Equally Blessed released before the election which details funding to oppose marriage equality by the Knights of Columbus.

Chad Griffin, HRC President commented on the report:

“The American people went to the polls and affirmed one of the core values of the Roman Catholic Church: the belief that all humans are worthy of dignity, respect, and love. The Church and NOM [National Organization for Marriage] can continue pouring money into discriminating against LGBT people, but the writing is on the wall for their anti-equality agenda. The Roman Catholic hierarchy should be focusing on taking actions that actually improve people’s lives, not spending precious resources on spreading malicious lies aimed at tearing down an entire community of people.”

(As an aside, in a HuffingtonPost blog entry, Griffin cited one of ten reasons that marriage equality was so successful this election cycle was because “Faith coalitions were on our side:”

“In 2008, our opponents talked like they had a monopoly on faith. This year, the prominent voices of pro-equality faith leaders like Reverend Delman Coates and organizations like Catholics for Marriage Equality made a huge difference.”)

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, where the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis spent $650,000 in a campaign to support a state constitutional ban against marriage equality, a group of concerned Catholics is calling for greater transparency and accountability.

Minnesota Public Radio reported on a meeting of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, where one leader, Martha Turner, asked participants to share their concerns about archdiocesan spending so that the group can start a conversation with the archdiocese:

” ‘We would like to hear your stories,’ Turner said. ‘We want to hear from you, we want to hear your experiences and your concerns about how the money is used that you donate to your parishes and that some of which ends up in the archdiocese.’ “

As Catholics begin to ask for more transparency and accountability, church leaders are going to find that they will have to be honest or that Catholics will vote with their pocketbooks by refusing donations.  What would be interesting to know is how much Catholic money was raised FOR marriage equality efforts.  As the number of Catholics who support marriage equality continues to grow, the total of their individual donations to marriage equality campaigns will is sure to grow.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry








Human Rights Campaign Report Details Catholic Funding to Oppose Marriage Equality

October 19, 2012

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a national LGBT equality political group, has released a report detailing the significant contributions that Catholics groups have been making to anti-marriage equality efforts in four states where marriage rights are on the ballot this fall:  Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State.

According to,

“The HRC report finds that the Church has spent at least $1.1 million as part of its broader effort to deny gay and lesbian couples committed couples the right to marry.

“In addition, a close ally of the Church and past co-conspirator, the National Organization for Marriage, has spent nearly $1.4 million on the four ballot measures. In the aggregate, the Church and NOM are the single largest funders of discrimination, responsible for funding nearly 60 percent of all anti-equality efforts in Minnesota, Maryland, Maine and Washington.”

According to the, the HRC’s leader identifies the Catholic Churchas the top donor opposing marriage equality among religious institutions:

“ ‘The Catholic Church hierarchy has positioned itself as the leading religious organization funding discrimination against LGBT people,’ said HRC President Chad Griffin, in a press release that highlighted recent polling from the Public Religion Research Institute, which found that a majority of Catholics support same-sex marriage.

“ ‘Perhaps most disturbing is the number of local parishes redirecting the hard-earned dollars of its members in the name of discrimination,’ Griffin said. ‘The Church hierarchy owes the laity an explanation as to why they are spending this much money on discrimination, and at what cost to other crucial Church programs.’ ”

The HRC report was released on the same day that another report detailing major contributions against marriage equality efforts from the Knights of Columbus.  This second report was commissioned by Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic organizations which work for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has a news article which focuses on the amounts spent in Minnesota where a proposed constitutional ban against marriage equality is on the ballot this fall:

“From the $3,000 sent by Catholics in Baton Rouge, La., to the $500 from the Diocese of Austin, Texas, more than two dozen dioceses and archdioceses have dug deep for the local effort. The largest contributions came from closer to home, with the dioceses of Crookston, St. Cloud and Winona putting up $50,000 apiece.

“The Knights of Columbus, the nation’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, has contributed more than $130,000 to Minnesota’s effort.

“The money is all flowing to the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund, a political organization that has contributed more than half of the $1.2 million raised by the pro-amendment Minnesota for Marriage. Reports filed recently with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board detail the contributions to Minnesota from across the country.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Knights of Columbus Donating $$$ and Time to Minnesota Marriage Ban

October 15, 2012

The Knights of Columbus have donated substantial amounts of money and volunteer time towards the passage of Minnesota’s constitutional ban against marriage equality, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

According to the news story by Baird Helgeson:

“The state branch of the Knights has spent months raising money, staffing phone banks and leading seminars urging people to vote for the measure. The Minnesota Knights of Columbus are following a battle-tested formula used in several other states that passed marriage amendments. The local chapters quietly provide fundraising and crucial organizational infrastructure while the national organization pumps millions of dollars into major groups masterminding the effort to block laws around the country allowing same-sex marriage. . . .

“In the last four years, the group has given at least $3.6 million to groups leading marriage fights across the country. Now the group is trying to make its mark in Minnesota, and has directly given more than $130,000 to the fight.

“The Minnesota chapters so far have given at least $31,000 to pro-amendment groups. The national headquarters has given another $100,000.”

The Minnesota State Catholic Conference says it is no secret that the Knights have long been part of their strategy to pass the marriage ban amendment:

” ‘They are part of the grass-roots team, there’s no doubt about that,’ said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which is working to pass the measure. ‘We are grateful for the support of the Knights of Columbus.’

“The Knights were involved in the Minnesota marriage issue long before Republicans in the Legislature succeeded in getting the measure on the ballot.

“In 2010, the group created DVDs that carried an anti-gay marriage message from the Twin Cities archdiocese to 400,000 Catholic households — a move that angered many Catholics more supportive of same-sex marriage.”

A number of Minnesota Catholics are upset with the Knights’ involvement in politics:

” ‘I don’t think it is at all clear to the congregations,’ said Greg Seivert, a lifelong Catholic from Mendota Heights. When he was growing up, Seivert said, the Knights ‘were a charitable group that did the work of charity and mercy. This strikes me as a very different role. I would be very leery of contributing in any sort of way with their involvement in this political brouhaha.’ “

Figures about the  donations that the Knights have made to various causes show that working against marriage equality is one of their priorities:

“[The Knights] spent $850,000 for wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs for survivors of the Haiti earthquake; it gave money for playgrounds in Europe and for programs that promote peace in the Middle East and Africa. In Stamford, Conn., the Knights bought more than 1,000 turkeys for people in need. In Washington, D.C., the group gave $100,000 to promote programs to better include disabled people in the Catholic Church’s ministry.

“That same year, the group gave at least $700,000 to marriage-related efforts.

“The year before, the Knights gave more than $1 million to the National Organization for Marriage, a driving force behind marriage-related measures across the country.

“In 2008, it gave more than $1.4 million to the group backing California’s Proposition 8, which successfully added a same-sex marriage ban to that state’s constitution.

” ‘They are definitely a force and have been very helpful,’ said Frank Schubert, who ran the Proposition 8 campaign and now is running Minnesota for Marriage, the lead group pushing the marriage amendment.”

The article also points out that national organizations which support marriage equality have also been keeping their eyes on the Knights’ involvement:

“Sharon Groves, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s religious and faith program, said the group’s secrecy is most troubling. The myriad entities shuffling money around to marriage-related groups makes tracking the group’s contributions nearly impossible, she said.

” ‘The Knights are really an organization pulling the wool over the eyes of many Catholics,’ Groves said. ‘They do a lot of important work, but people are being sold a bill of goods, thinking that all this work is helping the needy when really it is going toward some pretty sinister stuff.’ “

Such revelations about the Knights’ involvement against marriage equality is not new, but what is new is how widespread and deep their involvement is.  Bondings 2.0 has carried previous stories about the Knights’ work.  They can be accessed by clicking on the titles below my signature.

The real question is how rank and file Knights will respond when they learn that the money they have been raising has been going to this type of work, and not to charitable organizations.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related Posts

December 10, 2011: The Minnesota DVDs

February 6, 2012: Following the Knights of Columbus Money Trail

April 5, 2012: Just Say “No” to NOM

August 2, 2012: Knights’ Work Against Marriage Equality Tarnishes Their Catholic Tradition




Just Say “No” to NOM

April 5, 2012

Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic justice organizations, has called on the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, to publicly disassociate themselves and their organizations from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).

The group wrote to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson after documents unsealed in a court case in Maine revealed that in opposing marriage equality NOM sought to “drive a wedge” between the black and LGBT communities and the Latino and LGBT communities.

“Fostering hostility and hatred is something that violates the very fundamentals of our faith,” the group wrote to Dolan. “Our Church stands for unity among all, regardless of race or ethnicity. We should be promoting understanding, love and the inherent dignity of all people.”

The U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has worked closely with NOM in opposing marriage equality in a number of states, including the current campaign to reverse same-gender marriage legislation in the state of Washington. The Knights of Columbus donated more than $1.9 million to NOM between 2008 and 2009 alone, according to the group’s annual reports. You can read the entire text of the letter to Dolan here.

In their letter to Anderson, the group said: “We believe that if all of the faithful Knights around the country knew that their leaders have spent millions of dollars fighting marriage equality, rather than spending it on the social programs that the faithful Knights expect, they would be outraged.”  You can read the entire text of the letter to Anderson here.

The strategy memo was among a number of documents unsealed last week by a federal judge. It revealed that in addition to turning ethnic communities against he LGBT community, NOM also sought to find children willing to speak out against their LGBT parents.

Equally Blessed is also asking supporters to use the “CatholicNoToNOM” graphic (above) as their profile picture on Facebook pages and to use the “#CatholicNoToNOM” hashtag on Twitter.

“A strategy that deliberately tries to divide families is shameful,” said Lourdes Rodriguez-Nogués, president of Dignity USA. “Being a lesbian makes me no less Cuban that I was before I came out, no less Catholic, no less a part of my family. Latino families want what is best for each of their members and know that anything that oppresses one of us oppresses all of us.”

In addition to calling upon Dolan and Anderson to publicly disassociate themselves and their organizations from NOM, Equally Blessed is also launching a social media campaign: #CatholicNoToNOM to raise awareness of the NOM’s tactics.

“We hear frequently that marriage equality would be detrimental to the family,” said Casey Lopata, co-founder of Fortunate Families. “But it is the National Organization for Marriage that is seeking to tear families apart.”

Equally Blessed includes four organizations that have spent a combined 115 years working on behalf of LGBT people and their families: Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.

Trying to Repeal Marriage Equality Laws in Maryland and Washington State

April 2, 2012

Maryland and Washington State both recently legalized marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples. In both states, the laws were signed by governors who are Catholics. However, both states now are experiencing campaigns to repeal these two laws through voter referendums.  In both states, the Catholic hierarchy is heavily involved in collecting signatures to put the repeal of these laws on the ballot.

According to a local television station (WJLA) report in Maryland:

“The [Maryland]Catholic Conference and the Maryland Family Alliance are leading the effort to get the 56,000 signatures needed to take same sex marriage to a ballot referendum.”

What makes this news even more disturbing is that meetings to train people to lead the campaign were not open to the public:

“At a Hyattsville [Maryland] Catholic Church, the Maryland Family Alliance and Maryland Catholic Conference are hosting what will be one of at least 25 training sessions for volunteers—most of which will be done behind closed doors.”

Why the secrecy?  If the Maryland Catholic Conference believes that what it is doing is right, why aren’t they allowing the public to be part of the process?  Why aren’t they allowing the press to witness their deliberations?

In Washington State, bishops allowing parishes to collect signatures after Sunday Masse for that state’s anti-marriage equality referendum.  In a letter to Catholics, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle stated:

“Because we believe that this issue is critically important, we support Referendum 74 and have approved the gathering of signatures in our parishes over the next few months. Your pastors have received from us information regarding the signature drive, and we requested that they not collect signatures on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday. After Easter, signatures may be gathered on Referendum 74.”

If the archbishop believes that this signature-collecting effort is the right thing to do, then why not allow it to happen on Palm Sunday and Easter?  If the effort is a good one, it should be proper to do on any Sunday.

According to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog post, Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima, Washington, is also allowing signatures to be collected at parishes.  The blog post quotes a letter from the bishop on the diocesan website:

“We will . . . provide every opportunity for parishes throughout our state to participate in gathering signatures for Referendum 74 in order to place it before voters in November.

“Should the referendum qualify for the ballot, parishes also may support the referendum to overturn the law.”

The Washington State Catholic Conference has made petitions to repeal the law available on their website.  The petitions are produced by an organization named “Preserve Marriage Washington” which is identified on the Catholic Conference website as “an entity created by the National Organization for Marriage.”

Referendum campaigns are won or lost depending on which side is more capable of turning out the vote.  These incidents illustrate how the Catholic hierarchy has a strong advantage because of the huge communications infrastructure they have with parishes.   Marriage equality supporters will have to find creative ways of getting their message of equality and justice to what we know is the overwhelming majority of Catholics who want to protect marriage for lesbian and gay couples.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Equally Blessed to Bishops and K of C: Sever Ties With NOM

March 31, 2012

The news this week that the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) had been intentionally trying to drive a political wedge between the LGBT and African-American communities has prompted a national Catholic coalition to call on the U.S. bishops and the Knights of Columbus to sever all ties with the anti-marriage equality organization.

Equally Blessed, a coalition of four national Catholic groups that work for justice and equality for LGBT people, has launched a social media campaign to alert people of the connections between these two powerful Catholic organizations and NOM, and to petition these groups to stop their alliance with NOM, including ending all financial support.

The Equally Blessed coalition (made up of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry) has set up a Twitter hashtag for the campaign: #CatholicNoToNOM. has already begun reporting on the campaign.

For more on the NOM strategies that were revealed this week, has an analysis of the information.  You can also read the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) original revelation of the NOM documents here.

HRC’s “NOM Exposed” website has a page devoted to “Religious Ties,” in which Catholic support features prominently:

“NOM is comparatively unguarded about its ties to the Catholic Church, acknowledging that its early funds in California came from ‘well-off Catholic individuals,’ and NOM openly aligned with the Catholic Archdiocese in Maine. The largest known donation to NOM is $1.4 million from the Catholic fraternal organization the Knights of Columbus in 2009; that comes on top of the Knights’ $500,000 donation in 2008.”

Bondings 2.0 will report more information on Equally Blessed’s campaign as it becomes available.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


The Minnesota DVDs

December 10, 2011

The Minnesota Campaign Finance Board has ruled that the DVD-distribution campaign against marriage equality organized by Archbishop John Nienstedt, of St. Paul, did not require the archdiocese to register as a lobbyist.  The DVD was sent to over 400,000 Catholic households in Minnesota last year, a state which is now in the midst of a referendum campaign to adopt a constitutional amendment which would outlaw marriage for lesbian and gay couples.  Today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune contains a short article reporting on the Board’s decision:

“The board says the matter was not yet directly before state lawmakers or voters when the DVD went out, and therefore didn’t trigger political fund or lobbyist registration requirements.”

It seems that the Archbishop was exonerated on a technicality of timing.  Other evidence suggests a strong political motive for the DVD campaign, which took place during a hotly contested gubernatorial campaign, in which  support for marriage equality was an issue.  At the time of the DVD distribution, Nicole Sotelo, program director for Call To Action and a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, penned an insightful investigative piece on the political connections between the archbishop, the Knights of Columbus, and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).  Her evidence for a political motivation for the DVD campaign is quite extensive:

“While the archbishop is careful not to mention the name of the gubernatorial candidate for whom he wishes Catholics would vote, there are a number of indicators that make it appear that this DVD was not merely a faith-based educational video sent to the faithful but rather a politically-influenced campaign tool supported by NOM and the Knights of Columbus:

    • On Sept. 19, Catholic News Agency reported that the archdiocese “brought in Maggie Gallagher, head of the National Organization for Marriage, to discuss strategies for opposing the redefinition of marriage.” Later, the article explained why: “The issue is relevant to the governor’s race in Minnesota. Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidate Mark Dayton supports same-sex ‘marriage,’ while Republican candidate Tom Emmer does not.”
    • On Sept. 22, NOM’s public relations firm issued a press release announcing it had launched a television ad supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Their release reads: “Thirty-one other states have exercised their constitutional right to vote on marriage…. Mark Dayton and Tom Horner [the Independence Party candidate for governor] do not want the people of Minnesota to have any say.”
    • The release has remarkably similar wording to the DVD mailed to Catholic households the same week. In the video Nienstedt says: “Thirty-one states have passed marriage amendments and it is time for Minnesotans to have their say.” While Nienstedt takes care to not mention the political candidates, his sentence closely resembles that of the press release for NOM’s candidate.
    • The next line from the archbishop in the DVD is: “A question as important as the future of this great social institution should not be decided by a ruling elite, but by the people of Minnesota themselves…. Let the people speak!”
    • A television ad supporting Emmer that NOM aired the same week, titled ‘Most Important Civil Right,’ includes this line: “Shouldn’t something this important be decided by Minnesota voters, not politicians?…. Let the people vote!”
    • As Nienstedt speaks the lines that mirror those provided by NOM in other settings, sitting over the archbishop’s shoulder in the camera’s frame is a strategically-placed Knights of Columbus hat . . . “

While the archbishop does not explicitly call on Catholics to vote for Republican candidate Tom Emmer, he does not have to do so. Any Catholic Minnesotan who watches the archbishop’s DVD and the candidate’s television ad — both issued in the same week — receives a one-two punch and knows exactly who the archbishop is championing. “

Earlier this week, the former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America suggested to the bishops of Minnesota that they take a more pastoral and less political approach to the marriage equality debate by meeting with lesbian and gay people to learn of their experience.  Will Archbishop Nienstedt’s close call with almost being charged with explicit political involvement motivate him to take this approach?  We hope so, though we also hope that he and the other Minnesotan bishops would so out of a different motivation:  the deep pastoral need that exists in our church for dialogue with the bishops on LGBT issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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