AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Now to a battle over same-sex marriage in Minnesota. Last year, the state legislature approved a ballot question that would add Minnesota's current definition of marriage as only between one man and one woman to the state constitution. Catholic bishops pushed hard to get the measure on to the ballot, sending a DVD to every Catholic household in the state. Now the church is the largest campaign contributor in the marriage amendment debate.
And Sasha Aslanian of Minnesota Public Radio reports that's provoking dissent among some of the faithful.
SASHA ASLANIAN, BYLINE: Two domes dominate the skyline of St. Paul - up high, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Paul and downhill, the Minnesota state capital. On a recent Sunday afternoon, hundreds of Catholics assembled on the steps of the Capitol for the annual Family Rosary Procession.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: How do we define marriage?
CROWD: One man, one woman.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: One man and one woman, amen.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hail Mary, full of grace...
ASLANIAN: An auxiliary bishop in purple robes and Knights of Columbus in their plumed chapeaus and capes, and a white statue of the Virgin Mary led the faithful up to the cathedral reciting the Rosary.
CROWD: Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and...
ASLANIAN: Catholics makeup the single largest religious denomination in Minnesota and bishops are marshaling their full forces on the marriage issue. They've added a prayer for marriage to Mass that asks for courage to proclaim and defend God's plan for marriage, which is the union of one man and one woman in a lifelong exclusive relationship.
Parishes are assigning church captains to educate parishioners and get out the vote.
Michael Blissenbach is a 25-year-old church captain from Hastings, a Mississippi River town outside the Twin Cities.
MICHAEL BLISSENBACH: As far as I'm concerned, as a Catholic, this is about protecting the right of kids, whenever possible, to be raised by their mom and dad. And that's why I am active on this issue.
ASLANIAN: Blissenbach says he's also concerned how the church and religious organizations, like Catholic Charities, could be affected in their adoption and foster care work if same-sex marriage were ever legalized in Minnesota.
Volunteers like Blissenbach play an important grassroots role in getting the church's message out. But bishops are also contributing financially. Three dioceses contributed a total of $750,000 to the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund, more than half the money raised on the pro-amendment side.
Jason Adkins heads up the lobbying effort.
JASON ADKINS: It takes money to speak in a democracy and it takes a lot of it these days. And this is going to be an important debate and so need to raise the money, and the Catholic Church is very committed to getting that message out. And so, we're going to raise and spend the money we need to do that.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)
ASLANIAN: Not all Catholics are on board with the bishops. On Tuesday nights, a group of 40 or so Catholics who oppose the amendment meet to pray the Rosary at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Barb Frey is one of the organizers
BARB FREY: We wanted to do something as a respectful sign of our dissent. And what we also wanted to do was to reach out to other Catholics who we believe think in their heart that this is unjust and a wrong direction for our church leadership, and to let them know that they're not alone.
ASLANIAN: The first time they showed up in April, the cathedral's rector told them they could pray the Rosary but only in silence. Many of those who have come have gay or lesbian children. Larry Schaeffer is one of them.
LARRY SCHAEFFER: I have a lesbian daughter who is in a relationship that's very beautiful, has two little daughters. And I don't see this relationship any different than my other two daughters or my son. Gay people are not the enemies of marriage.
ASLANIAN: Mary Jo Spencer also has a lesbian daughter. Spencer is from heavy Catholic stock, as she calls it, but her patience with church hierarchy had grown thin.
MARY JO SPENCER: I can say that I have not gone to the Catholic Church for a number of years, and it is this that has brought me back.
ASLANIAN: Catholics on both sides say they'll continue to pray the Rosary, hoping for opposing outcomes on Election Day.
For NPR News, this is Sasha Aslanian in St. Paul.