It's a question of picking the right battles. And while the sentiment behind a campaign to boycott the July 8-9 Basilica Block Party fundraiser is understandable, it's not the right target for gay rights supporters.
The "Say NO to the Basilica Block Party" Facebook campaign had more than 15,000 supporters before it was deleted late last week. The page had asked people to stay away from the annual music event to protest the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis' support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
As Basilica officials point out, none of the money from the event goes directly to the Archdiocese. The proceeds support only two efforts -- ongoing renovations of the Basilica of St. Mary's and the St. Vincent de Paul food shelf and other services to the needy. (The Star Tribune is a sponsor of the party.)
Many gay rights advocates aren't happy with the Archdiocese -- for good reason. Last year the church sent more than 400,000 DVDs with a pro-amendment message to the homes of Minnesota Catholics. And the Basilica's pastor, the Rev. John Bauer, is a vocal proponent of gay marriage bans who has referred to Catholic policy describing homosexuality as a "condition."
But turning away from this popular community event would hurt two important causes that many in the gay and straight communities support, and a boycott could alienate those Minnesotans who remain undecided on the issue.
Gay rights advocates would be better served by channeling their energy into building support for their cause before the amendment appears on 2012 ballots.
On that score, Minnesotans should be encouraged by recent action in New York. Last Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that made New York the sixth state in which gay and lesbian couples can legally wed. Pending any court challenges, same-sex marriages can begin in New York in 30 days.
Cuomo personally worked with Republican donors, business leaders and legislative supporters to pass a bill that had been defeated by his legislature only two years ago.
The law passed amid opposition from the largest and most influential religious groups in the state -- including the New York Archdiocese. The governor, a Catholic himself, fulfilled a campaign promise he made last year and infused new enthusiasm into the national gay rights movement..
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire Democrat-turned-Republican-turned independent, called the vote "a historic triumph for equality and freedom."
Bloomberg was among the wealthy business types who had lobbied in Albany for the measure and had the personal resources to help Republican lawmakers withstand any backlash from their own party.
They understood that extending this basic right to gays and lesbians is the right thing to do -- and that it's also good for society and good for business.
New York joins Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage. But it is by far the most populous and diverse state to take that important step for human and civil rights.
New York modeled what can be done; Minnesotans can learn by example. In the 17 months until Minnesotans cast their votes, gay marriage advocates should focus on building a similar coalition here.
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