A report by the Human Rights Campaign on Thursday said that the Catholic Church has contributed more than half of the funding into efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesotat.
Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund, a political committee created solely to raise money for the effort, has contributed half of the $1.2 million raised to support the measure, the report said.
That group has collected $180,000 from dioceses around and the nation, along with more than $130,000 from the Knights of Columbus, the nation’s largest Catholic fraternal organization. The group’s fundraising includes $150,000 combined from dioceses in Crookston, St. Cloud and Winona.
The HRC report indicates that the Catholic Church and the National Organization for Marriage have become dominant forces in the effort to block same-sex marriage, contributing “an unprecedented” amount of money in the four marriage-related campaigns around the nation.
“The Catholic Church hierarchy has positioned itself as the leading religious organization funding discrimination against (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) people,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which is working to legalize same-sex marriage around the nation. “Perhaps most disturbing is the number of local parishes redirecting the hard-earned dollars of its members in the name of discrimination.”
Chuck Darrell, spokesman for Minnesota for Marriage, the lead group pushing the measure, said the Human Rights Campaign and a similar group, Freedom to Marry, have contributed dramatically more than the Catholic Church and its affiliates this campaign season.
"They are vastly out spending our side and they now have the gall to complain about it?" asked Darrell. "It’s embarrassing to see such whining."
The Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry and their affiliate groups have contributed more than $1.4 million to Minnesotans United for All Families, the group opposing the amendment.
With millions raised and less than three weeks before the election, the fight over Minnesota’s proposed marriage amendment has already become the most expensive and divisive ballot question in state history.
Marriage amendment supporters want to add language into the state Constitution defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Minnesota law doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, but the supporters worry about recent lawsuits and legislative proposals that could change that.
Opponents say the marriage amendment will insert discrimination into the state’s founding document and will make it much harder for Minnesota to one day recognize same-sex marriage.
The Human Rights Campaign says that much of the money coming from the various dioceses is really from parishioners who might not share that view on the marriage amendment.
“The majority of Catholics support equality for LGBT people – they want their dollars funding things like soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and domestic violence programs; not discrimination against people several states away,” 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 leader of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the voice for the Catholic Church leadership in Minnesota, said the Human Rights Campaign is inaccurately representing where the money came from.
The effort is part of "shameful attempts to mislead Catholics and the public about the source of the Church’s contributions to defense of marriage campaigns cheapens our political discourse and represents nothing more than a desperate political tactic," said Jason Adkins, executive director of Minnesota Catholic Conference and treasurer for its political-action organization.
He said the money was collected from additional offerings specifically for the marriage amendment fight.
At the same time, Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholics who support same-sex marriage, issued a report saying the Knights of Columbus has quietly become one of the most aggressive forces opposing same-sex marriage.
“(Knights CEO) Carl Anderson is using the good name that the Knights have developed over generations as cover while pursuing policies and making alliances that many Catholics find deeply troubling when they learn about them,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a member of the Equally Blessed coalition.
The group found that the headquarters organization donated $6.25 million to promote traditional marriage dating back to 2005, mostly by supporting ballot measures aimed at banning same-sex marriage in 12 states, including Minnesota.
A national Knights spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
In a recent Star Tribune report on the Knights' giving, Minnesota state deputy Craig Larson said there is nothing secretive about the organization’s giving. He said the group is charged with carrying out the work of the pope and the bishops, and that includes a strident defense of traditional marriage.
An Equally Blessed coalition member doesn’t see it that way.
“The Knights portray themselves as representatives of a broad Catholic tradition, but they have become culture warriors,” said David Saavedra, co-president of the board of Call To Action. “Most U. S. Catholics support marriage equality, and even those who have doubts are put off by these hardline tactics.”