Twin Cities Roman Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt and several other faith leaders gathered Tuesday on the steps of the state Capitol to encourage Minnesota voters to support the proposed amendment on the November ballot that would limit marriage to only between a man and a woman.
"I ask all Minnesotans to join us to vote yes on November 6th," Nienstedt said in a rare public declaration on the issue. "This is wonderful sight, to see clergy from ... so many different churches, come together and show their support for our basic understanding of marriage as a union between one man and one woman."
After his brief statement, other Christian leaders from area evangelical churches spoke at the news conference and also urged voters to support the idea of "traditional marriage" being solely between a man and woman because it’s what the Bible endorses.
"This gift of marriage is given to us by God to create a loving and secure bond between husband and wife, where they can share the deepest emotions and the most joyful pleasures of physical intimacy," said Carl Nelson, president of Transform Minnesota, a network of nearly 160 evangelical churches in Minnesota.
"Marriage bonds a mother and father to any children that may be born to their union and creates a stable and loving family. This is the essential public purpose of marriage and the reason why we support the marriage amendment."
Nienstedt, who was among about 40 clergy at the podium, declined to take questions from reporters and left immediately after the event. The archbishop has been one of the most active religious leaders backing the marriage amendment. So far this year, Catholic leadership has directed close to $500,000 in support of the amendment.
While conservative Catholics have thrown their support behind the measure, the more liberal-minded have rallied against it and believe Catholic bishops should instead be more focused on fighting issues such as poverty and homelessness.
Faith leaders in Minnesota who have spoken against the amendment include leaders from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which has nearly 800,000 members in the state, as well as those from other mainline Protestant faiths and a group of Jewish rabbis.
Conservative Catholics and evangelicals are among the amendment’s fiercest supporters. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest religious denomination in Minnesota, with close to 1.1 million followers; there are about 745,000 evangelical Protestants in the state.
The main group opposing the amendment, Minnesotans United For All Families, released its first television ad of the campaign season Tuesday, which features a Catholic couple telling Minnesotans to vote no on the amendment.
Chuck Darrell, a spokesman for Minnesota for Marriage, the lead group campaigning for the amendment’s passage, declined to comment on the ad.
The Rev. Erich Rutten, chairman for the Catholic Archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said after the news conference he had not yet seen the ad and couldn’t comment on it.
The Rev. Grant Stevensen, faith director for Minnesotans United, said religious groups in Minnesota are divided over the amendment.
"I think what we saw today were a group of my brothers, my Christian brothers, stating one point of view, one way of looking at the marriage amendment," Stevensen said. "I disagree with it and so do many people of faith, Christians, Jews, Muslims. The fact is, the religious community is divided on this. We’re voting no, partly because we don’t think voters or the government should take sides on what is essentially a religious debate."