The fight over the marriage amendment intensified Monday, as the lead group pushing the measure brought in advocates from Canada who say that legalizing same-sex marriage has radically transformed the country over the past decade.
Speakers told attendees of the three-hour seminar at University of St. Thomas Law School that elementary schools teach students about same-sex relationships and that parents who try to protect children from these teachings have no ability to intervene.
"Do Minnesotans want to live in a state where you have to take your kid's school to court to find out what they are being taught?" asked Steve Tourloukis, who is suing his Ontario school district to give parents ultimate authority over what their children are taught. Minnesota for Marriage and the Minnesota Catholic Conference hosted the event as they prepare for the final weeks of their fight. The groups are urging Minnesotans to support a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as only the union of a man and woman. Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Minnesota, but amendment supporters argue that future legislators or judges could change the law, as happened in Canada.
Minnesotans United for All Families, which opposes the amendment, responded with a "Canada Fact Check" memo debunking many claims at the event and accused the sponsors of wrongly connecting what happened when Canada passed a gender-neutral definition of marriage in 2005, with what could happen in Minnesota.
The deep divide over the marriage amendment in the Catholic Church also was in evidence at the seminar, when the Rev. Mike Tegeder, a marriage amendment opponent, was barred by the archdiocese from attending the meeting unless he followed certain ground rules.
After receiving an invitation that went out to many clergy, Tegeder RSVP'd. Minnesota Catholic Conference executive director Jason Adkins then sent an e-mail to Tegeder establishing "ground rules" for his attendance.
"You will sit where I tell you to sit, and if you refuse, you will be escorted out by UST security," Adkins wrote. "If you disrupt the event in any way, or speak out of turn, I will direct University [of St. Thomas] security to remove you."
Tegeder, head pastor at St. Frances Cabrini Church in Minneapolis, said the directive was "a symbol of their lack of confidence and lack of faith in what they are trying to do."
Archbishop John Nienstedt, a leading supporter of the amendment, had already ordered Tegeder to not publicly oppose his teaching on the issue.
Tegeder attended Monday's event and watched quietly from the second-floor balcony, but is not relenting in criticizing the church's position on the amendment.
"A bishop who has protected pedophiles is talking to us about protecting children," Tegeder said. "My God, it is unconscionable."
Nienstedt has endured criticism for defending Pope Benedict after allegations he was involved in a massive coverup of child sex cases. The archbishop has also been criticized for going to court to recover legal fees from a person who sued the church claiming sexual abuse by a former priest. That suit was later dismissed.
Adkins said Tegeder has a history of being "disruptive" at similar events.
"He decided to make an issue out of me giving him some basic rules of decorum, so I decided not to be bothered with him," Adkins said. "My policy had nothing to do with his disagreement" with the archbishop.
Panelists urged Minnesotans to approve the amendment, warning of a new cottage industry of lawsuits stemming from demands of same-sex couples.
Albertos Polizogopoulos, a Canadian lawyer and same-sex marriage opponent, said he envisions a day soon when a male couple will sue the state to pay for a surrogate mother to conceive a child.
"What's scary is that they are going to win. It is a scary time in Canada," he said. "You are fortunate to be at a time where you can have your voice heard on this. Don't waste it."
Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044