An anonymous donor paid for the Catholic Church in Minnesota to produce and distribute a DVD opposing same-sex marriage, Archbishop John Nienstedt said Wednesday.
In a video message being mailed this week to more than 400,000 Catholics throughout the state, church leaders called for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to be put before Minnesota voters.
Nienstedt, who serves as the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, expressed this view in remarks included in the version of the DVD being mailed to metro-area church members.
Nienstedt told Minnesota Public Radio News that it's the first time the diocese has used a mass DVD mailing to inform church members of specific church teachings or beliefs.
He said the video, distributed about six weeks before the gubernatorial election, was not a "political statement" or an endorsement of any candidate. He said he does not know how much it cost to produce or distribute the DVD, and said that private donor who funded the effort "asked to remain anonymous."
In the video, Nienstedt says that allowing same-sex couples to marry would change the meaning of marriage for all Minnesotans.
"At best, so called same-sex marriage is an untested social experiment," he said in the video. "And at worst, it poses a dangerous risk with potentially far-reaching consequences. An exercise of caution should be in order."
Nienstedt told MPR's Tom Crann his remarks are consistent with church teachings on marriage, and are not meant to discriminate against gays and lesbians. He said God intended that marriage be reserved for opposite-sex couples.
"There's no discrimination when there isn't a basic right to something," he said.
Nienstedt begins the video by telling viewers that some legislators want to change state law to allow same-sex couples to marry. Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009, and last spring a hearing was held on a similar bill in the House. No votes have been taken on either bill.
Thirty-one states have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, but Minnesota currently only has a state law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. A lawsuit challenging that law was filed earlier this year, though it will likely take years before it makes it through the courts.
While arguing that same-sex marriage goes against the teachings of the Catholic Church, Nienstedt said Minnesotans should be able to vote on the issue.
Nienstedt said the video, distributed about six weeks before the gubernatorial election, was not a "political statement" or an endorsement of any candidate.
"I hope we can all agree on this: If we are to change our societal understanding of marriage, it should be the people themselves, and not politicians or judges, who should make this decision," he said in the video.
Gay rights groups have opposed putting the same-sex marriage issue before voters, opting instead to step up efforts to educate Minnesotans and persuade people to see the issue as a question of equal rights.
Michael Bayly, executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities in Minneapolis, said part of the government's role is to protect the rights of minorities, and holding a vote on people's rights would be wrong.
"If we just allowed people to vote on all sorts of things in the past, we may not be the society we are today in terms of our tolerance, our acceptance and our laws for all types of people," he said.
OutFront Minnesota, a key organization in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, has focused its efforts at the Capitol, where gay rights advocates think it could be possible to change Minnesota's law.
Putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot requires approval of the state House and Senate, but not the governor. But for state law to be changed to allow same-sex marriage, the Legislature and governor would both have to approve a bill.
The gubernatorial candidates are split on the issue. Democrat Mark Dayton and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner support same-sex marriage, while Republican Tom Emmer opposes it.
On Wednesday, the National Organization for Marriage launched a new TV ad in Minnesota criticizing Dayton and Horner, while praising Emmer's stance on the issue of allowing people to vote on whether marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman.
Bayly said the campaign by Minnesota's Catholic bishops appears to be a "last-ditch effort" to influence the election.
"They're trying to force their particular understanding of marriage in the civil arena," Bayly said, adding that his group has sent out e-mails to members encouraging those who receive the DVD to send it back to the archdiocese.
Video includes message from national group
The video being distributed to Minnesota Catholics includes a statement from one of the state's six local bishops, followed by a video produced by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization active in the U.S. and many other countries.
That video includes images of a Catholic wedding, contrasting it with images of same-sex couples marrying in states where it's legal.
"What will happen to marriage, to children, and to Catholics and our institutions if judges and politicians are allowed to redefine marriage?" the video's narrator asks.
The video includes a Princeton University professor, an expert on jurisprudence, expressing his view that children raised by a mother and a father fare better than children raised by two mothers or two fathers.
The director of a Catholic marriage organization also is seen arguing that any laws legalizing same-sex marriage go against moral values and should be resisted -- just as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called on citizens to resist unjust laws during the civil rights movement.
Christopher Leifeld, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said all six Roman Catholic bishops of Minnesota have endorsed the outreach effort, which includes distributing the DVDs to parishioners.