St. Paul-area Lutherans are expected to go on record this weekend against the proposed marriage amendment to the state Constitution that would define marriage as a union between a man and woman.

Nearly 600 Lutherans, representing about 115 congregations in the St. Paul Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, are scheduled to vote Saturday at the group's annual assembly in Burnsville. ELCA Lutherans are the state's second-largest religious denomination, with nearly 800,000 members.

The vote is expected to follow earlier ones held by the Minneapolis Area Synod and three other Minnesota synods, all of which went against the marriage amendment.

The synod's move comes as more faith groups -- both for and against the amendment -- ramp up campaigns to sway voters on the controversial measure, which would, in effect, ban gay marriage in Minnesota. The amendment is on the general election ballot Nov. 6.

Groups energized

President Obama's recent endorsement of same-sex marriage has prompted Evangelical Protestants and other conservative Christian groups to mobilize in support of the amendment, said Chuck Darrell, spokesman for Minnesota for Marriage, a coalition of groups that want the amendment passed.

"We've seen kind of a groundswell," Darrell said. "More people want to help with the campaign."

Volunteers are assisting with door-to-door canvassing and making phone calls to voters, encouraging them to support the amendment, Darrell said. More people have also asked to give money to the cause or serve as "church captains" to get the word out in their churches about why the amendment should pass.

On the other side is Minnesotans United for All Families, a coalition that includes a number of liberal-leaning faith groups that also have created phone banks and rolled out a canvassing campaign to urge voters not to support the amendment.

The Rev. Grant Stevensen, faith director at Minnesotans United, said the group is also encouraging supporters of same-sex marriage to explain to church congregations why they believe the amendment would violate civil rights.

"We yell at each other, we have talking points ... but we never really open up in conversation with each other," said Stevensen. "If we only argue ... we stay stuck. You get unstuck when someone creates space for you to think ... and converse with someone who is either gay or lesbian or knows and loves someone who is."

ELCA Lutherans have been active in the campaign to defeat the amendment, Stevensen said. The St. Paul synod's resolution is expected to pass, namely because the ELCA nationwide voted in 2009 to allow for openly gay clergy in committed relationships.

Amendment divides faiths

Bishops for the Roman Catholic Church, the largest denomination in Minnesota with close to 1.1 million followers, have come out in favor of the amendment. Members of the more conservative Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, the state's third-largest denomination with 182,439 followers, also came out in support of the amendment at an assembly last month.

On Thursday, a list with the names of 80 former Minnesota Catholic priests who are against the amendment was released by a group calling itself Former Priests for Marriage Equality. Group leaders said they want to speak for active priests in the Twin Cities archdiocese, who were directed by Archbishop John Nienstedt not to voice dissent over the bishops' anti-gay marriage stance.

"We're free to speak while the others are not," said Bob Minton, the group's chairman. "They have a directive from the Vatican to be against homosexuality. So I think they're doing their job. There's a lot of Catholics who object to that. I don't want bigotry in the state Constitution."

As a vote on the amendment draws nearer, more and more faith groups are likely to express their views, said the Rev. Troy Dobbs, senior pastor at Grace Church in Eden Prairie. Dobbs helped lead a conference this month to encourage pastors to speak to their flocks in support of the amendment.

His message to the nearly 175 pastors who showed up: "Don't let the political community intimidate you into thinking you can't speak to this, because in my mind it's a theological issue that has gotten politicized. I believe it's what the Bible says about marriage. ... It advocates one man, one woman for one lifetime."

Rose French • 612-673-4352