An Eventful Week Preceding Pentecost

This article originally appeared in the parish bulletin on May 19, 2013

The great Solemnity of Pentecost has arrived, closing out Easter Time fifty days after it began. The Season of Easter started in the dark during the Easter Vigil on March 30, with a snowy landscape that, unbeknownst to us, was to last for many weeks. This year Easter Time featured a very snowy April and even a May snowfall, with a 98 degree day eleven days later. Indoors, it has been a beautiful and joyful season that has seen Baptisms and First Communions and Confirmation. The lovely feast days of saints have been celebrated, including that of the Apostle St. Matthias, which is May 14. That day was also the day that Governor Mark Dayton signed into law the bill that changed the definition of marriage in Minnesota.

I want to commend those from our parish who worked hard to get the word out about the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage, and who helped encourage people to vote in a way that is consistent with our beliefs. Thank you for all you did! We certainly succeeded in raising people’s awareness about the significance of marriage.

Back on November 6, Minnesota voters rejected the marriage amendment that would have amended the State Constitution so that marriage would be defined as the union only of one man and one woman. But the voters of our state also voted in the current State Legislature, which made possible the events of the past week. Before the election we heard many activists claiming that same-sex marriage would still be illegal if the amendment was defeated, but I would imagine most of us knew that it would not be long before the law changed. At the end of February a bill was proposed to expunge from Minnesota law the requirement that marriage be between a man and a woman. Negotiations followed. On Thursday, May 9 the House passed the bill, and on Monday, May 13 the Senate passed it. The governor signed it the next day to the great joy of huge crowds baking under the 5:00 sun as the first real heat of the season blew in on a desiccating wind. A great party followed.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference (the association of the bishops of the state) released this statement on Monday:

St. Paul, Minn. (May 13, 2013)—Today the Minnesota Senate voted to redefine marriage in Minnesota. The outcome, though expected, is no less disappointing.

The full social and legal effects of marriage redefinition will begin to manifest themselves in the years ahead. The Church, for its part, will continue to work to rebuild a healthy culture of marriage and family life, as well as defend the rights of Minnesotans to live out their faith in everyday life and speak the truth in love.

Although we were unable to convince legislators that Minnesota needed to strengthen marriage, not redefine it, we take comfort in the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ from today’s Gospel: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

May St. Joseph, patron of the universal church, and Our Lady of Fatima, intercede for the Church, the State of Minnesota, and our nation.

I had some trouble finding the actual text of the bill, but I located it on the Pioneer Press website. It can also be found by searching for the Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes and going to the bill labeled “HF 1054.” The principal difference brought by this new law is the changing of “a man and a woman” to “two persons.” It changes a few other words, such as the prohibition of marriage between “a brother and a sister” to the prohibition of marriage between “siblings.” It is significant that the following language has been added to Minnesota statutes under the heading “Refusal to solemnize; protection of religious doctrine:”

Each religious organization, association, or society has exclusive theological control over its own doctrine, policy, teachings, and beliefs regarding who may marry within that faith. A licensed or ordained member of the clergy or other person authorized by section 517.08 to solemnize marriage is not subject to any fine, penalty, or civil liability for failing or refusing to solemnize a marriage for any reason.

We will see if this language is strong enough to protect our Catholic clergy from prosecution in the years to come. I hope it is. Of course, we will all be all right no matter what happens. God is in charge! But I suppose a person of any faith or no faith would be committing an act of discrimination for declining to do business with a same-sex couple in events celebrating their exchange of legal marriage vows.

We shouldn’t forget that even Catholic people in Minnesota have a right to make our opinion known. My representative in the Minnesota House responded to my message to him by sending me his “Legislative Update” in which he quotes a Wikipedia explanation of the phrase “Render unto Caesar.” It says, of course, that Jesus said we are to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. This particular legislator, however, implies that the question of marriage is in the realm of “Caesar” instead of the realm of God. He quotes Wikipedia’s explanation of the phrase, quotes a rabbi, and adds these words of his own: “As your elected representative and having taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of Minnesota and to discharge faithfully the duties of this office to the best of my judgment and ability, I represent you as part of the secular authority of Minnesota.” Do you believe we need to give to Caesar what belongs to him by conceding that, once elected, our officials should vote as they please on matters that affect people of faith?

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