BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
For the better part of the past decade, Catholic organizations have played a major role funding anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives across the country. According to a new report by the Human Rights Campaign, the Catholic Church and related groups are providing more than half of the funds that have been raised so far in this year's fight against marriage equality in Minnesota, Maryland, Washington, and Maine.
A large chunk of that funding is coming from the leadership of the Knights of Columbus, which has, over the past few years, become a major funder in the war against equality.
Whether you're Catholic or not, you've probably heard of the Knights of Columbus, mostly because the world's largest Catholic fraternal organization - membership is open to Catholic men over the age of 18 - has gained a reputation over its 130-years for, among other things, supporting immigrants' rights and doing important charitable work.
These days, a new report by a coalition of Catholic pro-equality groups called Equally Blessed (Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families and New Ways Ministry), found that "The Knights of Columbus has contributed significant monetary and organizational resources to opposing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) individuals and their families, especially in the area of opposing marriage equality,"
"The Strong Arm of the Bishops: The Knights of Columbus and Anti-Marriage Equality Funding," found that "the Knights of Columbus is at the nexus of a small group of organizations working to block marriage equality in the United States that includes the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Organization for Marriage and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty."
According to the Equally Blessed report, "Of the nearly $155 million donated by the Knights of Columbus in 2010, $125 million was raised at the local level" through such activities as pancake breakfasts, casino nights, and carnivals.
While it is likely a safe bet to say most of the rank-and-file members of the Knights of Columbus have little to no say as to where their money is going, its national leadership is contributing directly not only to anti-same-sex marriage ballot initiatives, but it has also helped fill the coffers of other right-wing groups working on anti-gay measures.
According to Religion Dispatches Peter Montgomery, The Knights of Columbus has "an astonishing $16.9 billion in assets" which largely "comes from a huge and profitable life-insurance business it promotes through local councils and parishes. It funnels millions of dollars to the pope and bishops conferences as well as to more service-oriented charities." The report notes that "As a 501(c)(8) not-for-profit fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus is free to direct profits from its insurance business to charitable activities or charitable offshoots."
"Since 2005," Equally Blessed's report found, "the Knights of Columbus has provided more than $15.8 million dollars toward these efforts [anti-gay initiatives], providing $6.25 million directly to anti-marriage equality efforts and $9.6 million to organizations to build a conservative religious and political culture to oppose efforts for marriage equality."
The report found:
- ".... The Knights was a major contributor to ballot measures in California, Kansas, Florida, Arizona, Washington, Maryland and Maine. The Knights has also given significant resources to state Catholic Conferences and other organizations to run public relations campaigns against marriage equality in states such as Minnesota."
- The National Organization for Marriage ($1.9 million) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ($1.2 million), are two of the largest recipients of Knights of Columbus funding.
- "The Knights of Columbus has been directly involved in opposing marriage equality efforts in 12 states through the direct funding of anti marriage equality ballot initiatives and allied organizations that oppose marriage equality and political activism: Arizona; California; Connecticut; Florida; Kansas; Maine; Massachusetts; Maryland, Minnesota; New Jersey; Pennsylvania, and Washington."
- The organization has given $9.6 million "to organizations to build a conservative religious and political culture between 2006 and 2010."
- "The Knights of Columbus' own Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, founded by Knights of Columbus President Carl Anderson to train theologians who support the Vatican's contention that Catholics can never condone marriage equality, is the largest recipient of this funding. The second largest recipient is the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which files lawsuits on behalf of religious interests. " The Becket Fund is one of the major right-wing legal outfits combatting President Obama's Affordable Care Act. The Knights have also funded the Federalist Society, the Howard Center for Family, and Religion & Society (which sponsors the World Congress of Families).
It is not unusual for Catholic Church leaders and conservative Catholic Lay organizations to be behind their Roman Catholic brothers and sisters on important public policy issues. According to Box Turtle Bulletin, a 2011 Public Religion Research Poll "showed that nearly three quarters of self-identified Roman Catholics support civil recognition of marriage or civil unions, with 64% of weekly churchgoing Catholics holding that same opinion. In 2012, Catholic support for marriage equality has risen noticeably, particularly when the question is framed in terms of civil marriage.
"When same-sex marriage is defined as a civil marriage 'like you get at city hall,' Catholic support for allowing gay couples to marry increases by 28 points, from 43% to 71%. (This large jump is undoubtedly due to the fact that Catholics - divorced Catholics in particular - are very attuned to the distinction between a civil marriage and a church marriage.) This latest data demonstrates a growing divide between lay Catholics and the actions of the Catholic Church and its affiliated institutions."