Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Iowa Catholic Bishops Collude with NOM to Combat Gay Rights: Local Catholics Fight Back

I’ve just noted a new watchdog site monitoring the activities of the National Organization for Marriage, as that non-profit amasses huge amounts of money from undisclosed donors and seeks to determine the outcomes of elections in several states it has targeted for pro-Republican political activism in the fall elections.  One of the states in question is Iowa.  As the new NOM Exposed site about which I’ve just blogged notes

On September 13, 2010, NOM reported spending $235,037 on a statewide television ad calling for "the rejection of all three state Supreme Court justices facing judicial retention election in November 2010." In fact, the three justices were part of the unanimous 2009 decision ruling that the equal protection provision of the Iowa Constitution guarantees gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.

At a news conference, [Bob]Vander Plaats [head of Iowa for Freedom and former GOP gubernatorial candidate] said the campaign to oust the three justices was one of the most important elections in the country.
NOM launched a "Reclaim Iowa" campaign in 2009 to pass a state constitutional amendment that would overturn the marriage equality ruling by the state supreme court and elect legislators who oppose same-sex marriage.

In Iowa as in its sister state of Minnesota, Catholic bishops statewide are coordinating their efforts with NOM to push for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage—though NOM has faced a state ethics inquiry in Iowa for failure to disclose its donors after it raised than $750 for a campaign. While the Iowa ethics commission eventually dismissed the complaint, it sent a strongly worded letter to NOM insisting that it respect state election laws.

In both Iowa and Minnesota, many local Catholics have refused to accept the politically driven leadership of their bishops regarding the issue of same-sex marriage and a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.  I haven’t focused on that aspect of the story in Minnesota, because an outstanding blogger to which my blog links, Michael Bayly, has been blogging extensively about it at his Wild Reed site.

I’m interested in several recent statements by Iowa Catholics about their bishops’ political activities this election cycle, though.  I’d like to focus on two of these today.

Today’s Des Moines Register contains the following letter by Mike Coverdale of Nevada, Iowa.  I’m reproducing it in full here, because, in its elegant brevity, it speaks for itself as the powerful statement of one Catholic voice about how Catholic pastoral leaders forfeit their right to claim the moral high ground when they target a vulnerable minority and hop into bed with sleazy, unethical political agents like the NOM crowd:

The Iowa Catholic Conference effort to force an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to outlaw gay marriages is not done in my name, a heretofore tithing cradle-Catholic and veteran council member at two parishes in my spiritual journey.

Not in my name will the Vatican or its Iowa dioceses dictate hatred based on gender or sexual orientation, or use my resources to spread it.

My weekly tithe will now go to One Iowa, the organization dedicated to preserving marriage equality for all Iowans.

Another cradle Catholic, Thomas J. Jochum of One Iowa, delivers a similar message in an op-ed statement in the same paper today.  As Jochum notes, the Catholic bishops of Iowa are undercutting their moral credibility and the credibility of their message in support of the rights of immigrants and health care coverage for all by hopping into bed with Republican activists who combat both of those moral imperatives as strongly as they combat humane treatment of gays and lesbians:

The American Catholic Church has a rich history of standing up for social justice. Church leaders need to understand that a convention that would offer Iowa voters an anti-marriage equality amendment (that might pass), would likely pass amendments enshrining in our constitution amendments denying health care and education to the children of undocumented workers - and polls show a majority of Iowans would ratify them.

In the past year, around a thousand Iowa couples were legally married thanks to the Varnum decision. An amendment to the Iowa Constitution denying gay and lesbian couples the benefits and protections that civil marriage grants them would be a giant step backward, but it wouldn't stop same-sex partners from loving each other and raising their children to be good citizens. Amendments that would have the effect of denying some children and families basic necessities would be a sin. I ask the leaders of the Catholic Church, is it worth it?

As we say in the American South, lie down with dogs and you’ll get up with fleas.  In throwing their lot with NOM and its rogues’ gallery of Republican activists allied to powerful players opposed to immigrants’ rights and health care coverage for all, the Catholic bishops of Minnesota and Iowa are not doing themselves and their moral teaching any favors.  Or the Catholic people of their states.

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