"I feel like what we're doing is losing an ancient understanding of what marriage is."
If people take a look at Teresa Naughton's background, they would correctly conclude that she supports the proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage in Minnesota as the union of one man and one woman. A devoted Catholic with five children, she has been married for almost 25 years to her husband, Michael, who teaches at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
But her decision was not an easy one. "So many of us are struggling with our own understanding, and it's confusing," she said.
Teresa has known gay couples with wonderful relationships and children. She doesn't oppose gays as individuals and "truly wants to love them."
But she believes that same-sex couples raising children are inherently different from heterosexual couples with children. She agrees with Catholic teaching that all people, especially children, have a right to live in a society that recognizes the importance of mothers and fathers for the well-being of children and society.
"Redefining marriage to be between any two adults negates the importance of this recognition," she said. For her, this is a social justice issue.
Signs of the Naughtons' faith are sprinkled throughout their St. Paul home. In the kitchen hangs a portrait of St. Francis of Assisi. Near the large table is a statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Teresa's faith has led her to think deeply about the principles of her religion and the role of marriage as a social institution. As she has read and prayed and struggled with the issue, she came to understand how important gender roles are in a family. Before staying home to raise her children, whose ages range from 12 to 22, she taught third grade. She remembered teaching one little boy, the son of gay fathers.
"I was looking at him one day, and I thought, 'This boy will never know the importance of motherhood,' and it just hit me in a whole new way," she explained.
Even though many children aren't raised by their biological mother and father, this should be the ideal recognized in marriage, she believes.
During an interview at their home, the Naughtons described their beliefs and their fears of the societal impact if same-sex marriage is someday legalized.
"I feel like what we're doing is losing an ancient understanding of what marriage is," explained Michael Naughton, who teaches Catholic social thought and business at St. Thomas. "The idea of marriage -- it's very unique. From man and woman come children. That cannot happen from two of the same sex."
He believes the move to legalize same-sex marriage is a "dangerous experiment."
"It's a social institution. Any type of redefinition of it will have future implications," he said, and the consequences won't be known for a long time. Meanwhile, legalizing same-sex marriage opens the door to other changes. What about a brother and a sister marrying? he asked. "How far down the list do we go?"
Michael also worries about how people who share his values are viewed. "People who hold onto a traditional view of marriage are often seen as bigots, discriminatory, a new type of racist."
He also worries that religious freedom -- the freedom to believe differently based on religious principles -- could be threatened. After same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts, for example, Catholic Charities stopped handling adoptions rather than be required by Massachusetts state law to place children with same-sex couples.
Teresa does think about the many financial and legal benefits that married heterosexual couples receive. She believes the answer may be to create another status -- like civil unions -- that would allow gay couples to share these benefits without calling it marriage.
The Naughtons agreed with some reluctance to serve as captains and lead discussions on the amendment at their parish, Holy Spirit Catholic Church. Their approach is not to insist that everyone agree with them, but to ask them to study, discuss and pray in order to develop "an informed conscience."
They are disappointed that many people feel like they can't sit down and have an honest discussion about gay marriage. "We need to hear what each other is thinking and respectfully disagree without being labeled," Teresa said.
Challenging discussions take place in their own home. Their two oldest daughters question whether it's right to keep homosexual couples from marrying.
Watching the comedy show "Modern Family" isn't really on the list of things to do for the Naughtons, but when their 17-year-old daughter Mary invited them to join the laugh recently, it sparked a deeper discussion.
Mary bristled when her parents pointed out how the show, which features a complicated family that includes a gay couple with a child, makes opposition to same-sex families seem narrow-minded and unfair. Their comments also made Mary think about how the shows she likes portray homosexual relationships.
"It seems so normal to me," she said. "They make light of it. It's fun. It's funny. You learn to like the characters. ... How media has portrayed the gay relationship and lifestyle -- that's a really big factor in how the younger generation sees it."
Mary said that most of her friends support gay marriage. "It's kind of cool right now to be on the liberal end of all these things," she said. "Not so much you support it, but not to take away their right of marriage."
Mary will turn 18 before Election Day and plans to vote this fall. She hasn't decided for sure how she will vote on the marriage amendment.
Right now, she's listening hard to her parents' views. "I'm kind of trusting my parents on this, that they know what they're talking about," she said.