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Marriage amendment on ballot sparks religious debate

It's a story 2,000 years old: People read the same words in the Bible, but come up with different conclusions.

That is center to a debate about amending the Minnesota Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The bottom-line difference is about whether religious doctrine allows gays to marry.

To the Rev. Jeff Evans, there is no doubt the amendment follows God's wishes. It is, he said, an issue "the Gospels are very, very clear on."

Those who oppose the amendment, Evans said, are just following parts of the Bible with which they agree. "If you cut and paste ... then you can come up with anything."

The Rev. Grant Stevensen, who opposes the amendment, reads the Bible differently.

For Stevensen and others campaigning against the amendment, the Golden Rule rules: "Treat other people as we would like to be treated."

"I am concerned about the state of Minnesota drawing lines between people," Stevensen added, something he sees as violating the Bible's Golden Rule.

Evans and Stevenson coordinate religious activities for the two amendment campaigns, with what probably is the most extensive religious involvement of any state that has debated a marriage definition thus far.

The 30 states that have debated a constitutional amendment similar to the one Minnesotans will decide in the Nov. 6 election all passed it. However, amendment opponents say that in other states, faith communities that opposed the amendments did have not time to mount resistance like they are in Minnesota.

Most of the state's conservative evangelical churches side with the Catholic Church, the state's largest denomination, in favor of the amendment. Evans is pastor for the evangelical Christ Church Twin Cities in Minnetonka.

Amendment opponents include most of the second-largest denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Jewish synagogues that have taken stands on the issue. Stevensen is pastor at St. Matthew's, an ELCA church in St. Paul.

Those that favor the amendment say God made men and women to reproduce and raise children.

"God made us male and female in the beginning and they should become one," said the Rev. James Adams of St. Nicholas Catholic Church in New Market.

In addition to words in the Bible, Adams said, Catholics have a 2,000-year tradition of "consistent teaching" to back up their beliefs.

Like many other clergy discussing the amendment, Adams said he sees no way to compromise "when we talk about redefining what marriage is."

"Redefining marriage in Minnesota would be a declaration ... that the influence of a mom and dad on a child is not important," Michael Blissenbach said. "I think children would suffer as a result."

Blissenbach, 25, is parish captain for the pro-amendment campaign at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Hastings. He may be the youngest person in such a position and worries that allowing gays to marry and adopt children would be harmful. Besides, he added, "placing children with same-sex couples would be contradictory to Catholic teaching."

With friends on both sides of the debate, Blissenbach said he is positive the church is right.

Gov. Mark Dayton opposes the amendment, but has said little in public about the religious aspect of it.

A federal marriage definition proposal came up when he was U.S. senator, Dayton said, and he reread the New Testament. He said he found several passages in which Jesus talked about divorce and adultery being wrong, but he never mentioned same-sex marriage.

Dayton, who took religion classes in the late 1980s, said it appears Jesus put a higher priority on the Golden Rule.

Stevensen, an amendment opponent, said there is room for disagreement among people of faith.

"That is the nature of faith and it always has been that way," he said.

Davis reports for the Bulletin and other Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.