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Scallen family weighs marriage amendment: In their own words

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The Scallen family
The Scallen family. From left, Tommy, Eileen, Sheila, Pat, Tim, and Maureen.
Photo courtesy Bradley Failor

In the 16 years since Eileen Scallen called to say she was bringing a girlfriend home for a school reunion, her five brothers and sisters have grown used to having a gay sibling. But she worries that her siblings' loyalty to her may only go so far. 

Scallen fears they won't understand her opposition to the proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment that would define marriage as only being between one man and one woman. 

Accepting a gay sibling and her partner is one thing, but agreeing that they should have the right to marry — an idea Scallen said goes to the heart of her most important relationship — is a much bigger step.

A Catholic family that grew up in Annunciation parish in South Minneapolis in the 1950s and 60s, the Scallens were taught that homosexuality is a sin, and they are well aware that the church's leaders in Minnesota have made passage of the amendment a political priority.

Here's Eileen own thoughts:

Eileen Scallan and Marianne Norris
Eileen Scallen and Marianne Norris together on their front porch. Scallan wonders whether the loyalty of her siblings will be tested by a proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment that would define marriage as only being between a man and woman.
MPR Photo/Sasha Aslanian

Eileen Scallen:  "The thing that people, and these are very well intentioned people, they are good moral people, don't realize when they say, 'I'm OK with civil unions, but not marriage,' is they won't realize what they're really saying is, 'You know, your relationship is really not as good as mine,'" she said. "Tim and Mary Pawlenty went to law school with me. We were all in the same class. And what I always wanted to ask him — and her — is: Why do you think your marriage is any better than the relationship that I have with Marianne?"

Now listen as each of her siblings talks about their thoughts and positions.

Tommy Scallen
Tommy Scallen
MPR Photo/Sasha Aslanian

Tommy Scallen: "I don't classify people as necessarily gay or straight. They're people. So I don't dwell on somebody's sexuality," he said. That may have something to do with his career in the entertainment industry. "There's a lot of exposure at a young age to what was, at that point, a totally different lifestyle. When you work and are on the road with people, they become sort of a secondary family, and you accept them on a different level. They don't become peculiar or strange, they become friends and associates. So the more you deal with them, you less you think of them in terms of their sexuality."

Sheila Scallen: "I had never imagined that I would get to know what life was like in that lifestyle. I've met a number of her friends, and they are all great people. Most of them are very well educated, and fun people," she said. "They are just regular people. There's nothing different about them." (Sheila declined to be photographed.)

Patrick Scallen
Patrick Scallen
MPR Photo/Sasha Aslanian

Patrick Scallen: "This like other issues in the Catholic Church always keeps you on your toes. Obviously you're in a religion and a religious structure that tells you what the beliefs should be and you are expected to follow those," Patrick said of how he's been influenced by his Catholic upbringing with regards to the Minnesota marriage amendment. "So to go against the teaching of the church based on conscience is always a difficult thing to do."

Maureen Scallen Failor
Maureen Scallen Failor
MPR Photo/Sasha Aslanian

Maureen Scallen Failor: "To the point that we are put in this situation where we have to make this decision is really a travesty," she said, expressing frustration with the position she is in. "People have strong positions and thoughts, and they are entitled to that. But the fact that we have to vote on this, on something that's so private, and so personal in nature, I don't understand — I just don't understand — why it has had to come to this."

More on this topic:
Story: Catholic family with lesbian sister weighs marriage amendment.
Video: Minnesotans speak out about the marriage amendment.