When DeLaSalle senior Matt Bliss heard rumors that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis planned to hold a mandatory school assembly to talk about marriage, and potentially gay marriage, he remembers thinking, "This is not going to end well."
He was right.
"The first three-quarters of the presentation were really good," said Bliss. "They talked about what is marriage and how marriage helps us as a society. Then it started going downhill when they started talking about single parents and adopted kids. They didn't directly say it, but they implied that kids who are adopted or live with single parents are less than kids with two parents of the opposite sex. They implied that a 'normal' family is the best family."
"When they finally got to gay marriage, [students] were really upset," said Bliss. "You could look around the room and feel the anger. My friend who is a lesbian started crying, and people were crying in the bathroom."
Bliss was one of several students who stood up to argue with the representatives from the archdiocese. One girl held up a sign that said, "I love my moms."
Mike O'Keefe, a spokesman for the school, said that other students were mad that some of the students spoke out and thought that some of them were "rude" to the visitors from the archdiocese.
"We weren't being rude," countered Lydia Hannah, another student who spoke out. "But people were upset, and we weren't just going to sit there."
Hannah said students were anxious when they heard about the program and were suspicious because only seniors were required to go. "We put two and two together," said Hannah. "All of us will be able to vote next fall [on the constitutional amendment that limits marriage to same-sex couples]."
Hannah said the presenters briefly brought up the amendment but backed off when students got angry.
A priest and a volunteer couple presented the information. When someone asked a question about two men being able to have a quality, committed relationship, the couple compared their love to bestiality, Bliss said.
"Most people got really upset," said Bliss. "And comments about adopted kids, I found those to be really offensive. There were at least four kids there who are adopted."
Hannah, who is adopted, said one of the presenters said that adopted kids were "sociologically unstable." She called the comments "hurtful" and comparisons between gay love and bestiality upsetting.
"My friend said, 'You didn't just compare people to animals, did you?'" said Hannah. "I think everyone has a right to their opinion, and I don't judge them on it. But we don't force people to sit down so we can tell them their opinion is wrong."
Jim Benson, a vice principal who was at the gathering, said that "90 percent was received well. The majority of the kids focused on the 90 percent, but some responded to the last 10 percent."
Benson said the school expected a wide range of opinions on the topic and expected students to raise questions. He said about 20 students participated in a discussion the day after the event, and "I thought a lot of good came out of it. I thought the students were respectful."
Asked if he thought the comments of the presenters were appropriate, Benson referred me to the archdiocese.
Jim Accurso, spokesman for the archdiocese, said most of the presentation went fine. But during a question-and-answer session, a presenter used "an unfortunate example" to answer the question and made students upset.
"I can see where in a situation like this, students can feel dismayed," said Accurso, who added there have been no problems at other schools.
At one point, Bliss raised his hand and, "as politely as I could," began to argue with the presenters. He used his knowledge of history to refute many of their points, and explained that various cultures have accepted and embraced homosexuality going back hundreds of years.
"I think they were surprised by the history I gave them and surprised that I was so calm," said Bliss. "I don't think they expected the response they got from the students."
They were so upset that the priest and school officials abruptly ended the assembly. Students who were angry were allowed to stay there and talk with the archdiocese volunteers. It was more civil, for a while, but the more questions the presenters tried to answer, the worse it got.
"It was a really awful ending," said Bliss. "It was anger, anger, anger, and then we were done and they left. This is really a bad idea."
Paul Hannah, Lydia's dad and an attorney who specializes in First Amendment law (and who has represented the Star Tribune), supports his daughter's response. In an e-mail he said: "I was very proud of her and the other De kids."
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