Knights of Columbus ‘defend’ marriage

While all eyes were on California during a battle to outlaw same-sex marriage, a major front was being waged just a few blocks from Old Campus.

In a towering building on State Street sits the headquarters of an international lay Catholic organization, the Knights of Columbus. As Connecticut became the third state to issue same-sex marriage licenses Wednesday, the New Haven-based Knights concentrated their efforts to secure a different fate in California. Donating $1.4 million in support of Proposition 8 — California’s ballot measure to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage — the KOC is the measure’s single largest donor nationwide in the fight against gay marriage. And their fight is a crusade, with emphasis on family values.

The Knights of Columbus, founded in New Haven, have their own museum. But their influence in the state is still slight.
Kate Kraft
The Knights of Columbus, founded in New Haven, have their own museum. But their influence in the state is still slight.

Back in Connecticut, voters turned down Ballot Question #1, which called for a constitutional convention that in this case could have led to a ban on gay marriage. In retrospect, the members of the KOC said the convention failed in Connecticut because the ballot question — unlike referendums across the country — was not exclusively about gay marriage. But opponents maintain that the KOC focused their efforts heavily on California in light of a shifting tide of opinion in favor of gay marriage in Connecticut.


In a great stone scowl of a building with lofty brick columns, KOC Vice President for Communications Patrick Korten has an office overlooking the Long Island Sound. Three ornate crosses hang on the wall next to framed wedding photos. From one of the building’s sweeping views over downtown New Haven, Korten is quick to point out St. Mary’s church, where the Knights of Columbus was founded.

Although the KOC gave funds to fight gay marriage in its home state as well as in California, Connecticut proved a significant stumbling block, Korten admitted.

One of the reasons the convention did not pass in Connecticut, he said, was because the ballot question was not a direct referendum on gay marriage.

But on a broader level, the state has seen major shifts in public attitudes toward gay marriage, said Anne Stanback DIV ’85, director of Love Makes a Family, a Connecticut-wide nonprofit fighting for marriage equality. And many clergy of varying religions across the state have voiced support for marriage equality, she said.

Still, she said, the KOC have been diverting their attention from the state of Connecticut for the past three years.

“It seems as if they saw the way winds were blowing in Connecticut and turned their attention to other states instead,” she said.

But Korten disputed this claim, saying the KOC spent a considerable amount in Connecticut and struggled because the ballot question put before voters was not as clear as it had been in other states.

While Korten declined to cite the amount of funding spent in Connecticut, he said a “substantial” amount of money was given in support of the convention.

“It was enough to help with the television ads that ran the closing days on the air,” he said.

In California, the KOC has been donating since early this year, and gave a $250,000 donation directly from its general revenues in late January. Roughly eight months later, the KOC created a separate fund devoted to issues on the ballot in the 2008 election, which raised a total of $2.75 million, Korten said. $1.15 million from the separate fund was donated to combat gay marriage in California. When the fund was established, he said, the KOC sent an e-mail to all of its 1.28 million U.S. members, asking them to donate and support the organization’s efforts against gay marriage, stem cell research and assisted suicide. There are roughly 64,000 active members of the KOC in California, he said.

For the KOC, Korten stated, fighting gay marriage is necessary in order to protect families. And the organization has been actively combating in 30 states. Massachusetts and Connecticut represent two losses for the KOC, which Korten attributes to the obstacles in both states that prevent groups from bringing a constitutional matter before voters.

As for KOC’s plans to further fight gay marriage in their home state, Korten looked mildly perturbed. He paused for about five seconds and then laughed.

“If you’ve got an idea, I’m willing to listen,” he said.


The role of religion — and KOC’s status as the country’s largest lay Catholic organization — weighs prominently in the gay marriage debate, both in Connecticut and across the country. Religious values were the primary motivation behind the passing of Prop 8, said Jason Howe, the senior public information officer at Lambda Legal and former spokesperson for the “No on 8” campaign in California.

Maggie Gallagher ’82, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which was active in the fight for Prop 8, said individuals of all faiths have the right to weigh in on a constitutional amenendment.

But George Chauncey, chair of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender studies at Yale and an expert on gay marriage, said some religious groups have long histories of struggling to control their members’ right to marry — an effort, he said, now manifested in the battle over gay marriage. “The problem with the way the debate has been framed is that it is imposing one religious view … on everyone else,” he said.

The actions of a Catholic organization like the KOC reflect little consideration of their own roots, agreed Dale Martin, a religious studies professor. He said it was ironic that the KOC’s founding was predicated on combating discrimination against Catholics, yet the organization went on to discriminate against others.

Still, Gallagher said people of all religions and belief systems voted in favor of the proposition. She said that attacks on religious groups that supported the measure were undue.

“The attacks on religious minorities (the [Mormon] church and African-Americans) for exercising their core civil rights to speak, to vote, and to donate are shameful and deeply contrary to the best American tradition,” she wrote in an e-mail to the News.

Proposition 8 passed in California by a margin of 4.4 percent of the vote. In Connecticut, voters blocked a state convention — thereby allowing same sex marriage — by a margin of 18 percent.


  • Anonymous

    wow…yet another slanted, biased article from the YDN! From the quotation mark around the word "defend" to ending with a quote that the KoC is discriminating against others, the author's bias so completely distorts this article as to make it a journalistic farce.

  • Recent Alum

    Why the quotation marks around "defend"? The Knights of Columbus defend marriage; no qualification is needed.

  • Yup

    I was a left wingnut in college too:

    Abortions for everybody! And for free!

    Down with "traditional" marriage; up with polygamy! And for free!

    Now I am married… and have children.
    Now my views are… different.

    And I think back… In high school, everyone counseled my cousin to abort her unplanned pregnancy; she didn't. Twenty+ years later, her son, a great guy, finished college.

    Ppl counseled her to abort this great guy.

    Marriage? Every child deserves to be brought up by his or her biological parents: it is the IDEAL. Yes, not ALWAYS achieved, but still the ideal.

    We should protect--DEFEND--that institution.

    A brother cannot marry his sister (or, heck, cousin). A mother cannot marry her adopted son. A wife cannot marry her other lover.

    IMO: There is no point to a man marrying a man, and government should not be forced to "mainstream" a sub-optimal situation.

    Listen: I am all for civil unions or other contractual arrangements (although if two men can conjoin, I don't see why four cannot!). But marriage, you might eventually find, is not about the couple per se, it is a larger institution.

    Rail all you want, but it's true--and religion is NOT the reason.

  • Yale08

    I spent many wonderful moments with the Knights of Columbus and the Dominican Friars at St. Mary's.

    These are the true forces at work for "hope" and "change" and love in this world.

  • Anonymous

    Why is a religious institution so caught up in our legal and political system, anyway? Let there be no overlap between the civil rights of ALL married couples, and the narrow interpretation of marriage by various religions. After all, when I was married in a church, I still needed to file a document with the city to prove that I had indeed married my wife. Why can't we have ballot initiatives on 'secular marriage' or civil unions, or whatever term is least offensive to narrow-minded people throughout the United States, and let individual religions decide on whatever appropriate definition of marriage that they choose? We will get back to a separation of church and state, and remove a civil rights bias that has no business being enforced in a supposedly civilized 21st century country.

  • jonas

    maybe the quotation around the term "defend" are as implicitly insulting as when fundamentalist christian groups use quotations around the term "marriage" (i.e. "proponents of gay 'marriage'…").

    i think it's appropriate, though, because the knights of columbus are not really defending anything. with gay marriage coming, hetero marriage as we know it won't change whatsoever (or be 'under attack' as they like to say). the legal wording of marriage will simply change so that it is a union between any two partners who love and want to commit to each other rather than being a union between two partners who love and want to commit to each other and happen to have matching genitalia.

    i hope with optimism and positive examples, we can open the minds of those people who haven't gotten there yet.


  • mb

    "IMO: There is no point to a man marrying a man"

    Why not?

    I have found someone I love, who gives my life meaning, and with whom I plan to spend my life. We have been together for six years. I want to marry that person to declare those facts to society.

    Because we will not raise kids together, the government should refuse to recognize our marriage?

    By the way, I'm male; my fiancee is female. For this bizarre reason, the government WILL recognize our marriage. But banning gay marriages because they aren't reproductively fertile feels awfully like an attack on MY marriage. So much for defending the institution…


    The KOC building in new haven IS huge and imposing. It is by far the biggest KOC I have ever seen

  • anon

    anyone think that maybe the word 'defend' is in quotation marks is because the author is playing on the fact that they call themselves 'knights'?

    anyone? doesn't that make slightly more sense than questioning journalistic integrity?

  • Emma S.

    To the person who said, "Every child deserves to be brought up by his or her biological parents."--

    You do not know what you have just said. I have had experience working with young children whose biological parents have so neglected and abused them that their little bodies can barely contain the hatred and anger they feel. I have watched six-year-olds bite and hit themselves because their sense of self-worth has been utterly shattered by their inept, biological parents. It is terribly, terribly heartbreaking that so many, at so young an age, have become incapable of giving or accepting love.

    Do you really believe children should endure that? Do you really believe that the bond between a biological father and the six-month-old (oh yes, it happens) he molests is somehow sacred? Can you argue that a biological mother who gets her four-year-old drunk so that he will go to sleep knows what's best for him because they share some genes? Can biology stop you from running your son over with your car?

    Are you sure these children deserve this? So many children are taken from parents like these, live in foster care, and receive therapy, only to be put back in the same environment they had to be rescued from, simply because people like you believe they "deserve" nothing better than to be with their biological parents.

    What children need is love. Biology and love do not equate, and nobody deserves to be raised by people who can't love them, no matter how many alleles they share. A family is a family because they love and support each other, nothing more. You don't need a biological bond. All you need is love.

  • Hieronymus

    Emma S. seems to confuse specific examples with *all* examples. Indeed, she notes that she "works" with, specifically, neglected children, then uses that narrow data set to expand to *all* families.

    Emma: were YOUR parents abusive? Neglectful?

    Do you really believe that ALL parents--even those over-protective, over-involved Yale parents--molest, abuse, neglect?

    Surely you are able to see the deficiencies of your argument? No?

    (BTW: please do not make me dredge up the HORRIFIC counterexamples of child abuse by gays… oh… priests come to mind right off the bat…)

  • ryan '07

    there are great and terrible parents of all sexual orientations. you can't really use that as an argument against gay marriage. it's also really unfair to bring up the priest thing: the priests who molested weren't gay, they were pedophiles. those are very, very different things and it's incredibly insulting and offensive that you lump them together.

    also, i think the quotations around "defend" are appropriate. they're not defending marriage against anything. the people who are defending marriage are the people who support gay marriage. they're the ones helping ensure marriage as an institution thrives.

  • Hieronymus

    "the priests who molested weren't gay, they were pedophiles."

    Um… what do you call it when a male desires a male (the overwhelming situation)?

    If you prefer accuracy, I will admit that "homosexual pedophile" probably covers it.

    But that is getting off the topic.

    Do you deny, then, that of the variety of family situations extant that a child raised by its biological parents in a stable, low conflict environment is ideal? Said differently, exactly what variation is equivalent?

  • Emma S.

    Hieronymus-- Did it actually sound in any way like I want children to be plucked from the arms of their loving, caring parents? Did my assertion that love is the essence of a family really lead you to that conclusion? I'd like to be able to answer your questions, but your comment departs so sharply from what I wrote that I'm not sure exactly what it was you misunderstood. I'll try to state my thought more clearly: what bothers me is that people are so adamant about having children remain with their biological parents that they are sent back to harmful environments which they shouldn't have to endure. That simply should not happen, and it wouldn't if our society would be willing to let go of the idea that a biological bond is somehow sacred. I really can't comment on whether or not you are right that my argument is deficient, as I'm pretty sure you (perhaps deliberately?) have misinterpreted what I wrote. I am less concerned with being right than I am for advocating for the well-being of children, but you have not offered any criticism that can help me revise my beliefs in a beneficial way.

    As for the pedophile vs. homosexual thing--
    Most people who become the perpetrators of sexual molestation were at one point the victims of sexual molestation. It's pretty standard to see the victims of abuse begin to act out on their peers. It has little to do with actual sexual desire (and thus is a poor indicator of sexual orientation) and more to do with the expression of deep seated hurt and confusion that these people having been living with from a young age. (And no, I don't think this means we should excuse their actions, or let them keep doing it, or any such nonsense.) I'm not sure how to apply these observations to priests, although it would be interesting if it turned out that people who are molested tend to end up seeking out lives of celibacy. And in cases in which priests who molest children haven't had a history of being molested, I would wonder what the celibacy itself might have had to do with it. But I still doubt that you can universally assert someone is gay just because he molests boys.

  • ben09


    'homosexual pedophile' is a totally different animal as the standard, adult-loving homosexual. it would be just as unfair to group together 'heterosexual pedophiles' (of which there are at least as many as homosexual pedophiles) with standard, adult-loving heterosexuals.

    the situation you describe of a "child raised by its biological parents in a stable, low-conflict environment" sounds great. i would, however, argue that other situations could be equally good, as long as the parental units involved are qualified, loving, devoted, able, etc. i don't think biological lineage and parental gender are nearly as important to parenting as other factors. lots of heteros are great parents, lots are terrible parents. same thing with gays, probably in equal proportion. i would even venture to say that a higher percentage of gay parents are great parents because they are the truly devoted ones who sought out parenting rather than having it happen by chance. in any case, good parenting situations vs. bad should be determined on a case by case basis. a blanket statement like 'gay parents should be forbidden because it's not ideal' is extremely naive.

  • Yale Parent

    Throughout history it has been proven again and again:

    Blood is thicker than water.

    I never believed it: I always thought "alternatives" were just as good as "family," that conscious construction could be more deep, more permanent than any accident of biology.

    Then I had children.

    Sorry: Darwin knew what he is about. I now see the point of what I earlier (when in college, and later) derided: We are built to respond to our blood offspring in ways that, I now believe, cannot be re-created.

    So, sure: some family arrangements are okay, but some are better than others, and only one is best.

    And this is something that, sorry, most cannot know in college.

  • Anonymous


    That still has nothing to do with the issue. Lots of people grow up in loving situations with their biological parents. Great. Lots of people have biological parents who are abusive, negligent, dead, or otherwise not so ideal.


    What are you saying we should do with these children? Adoption sounds better than the alternatives, right?

    What we're talking about here is adoption by a gay couple as compared to adoption by a straight couple, a single parent, etc. Feel free to go off on tangents about the beauty of biological love if you wish, but don't expect the rest of us to keep paying attention.

  • J

    Yale Parent--

    Do you have friends who, for whatever reason, adopted children instead of having their own? If so, or even hypothetically, would you be prepared to tell them that you love your children more than they love theirs?

    Or how about your children's friends who are adopted? Could you actually tell them that, sorry, their parents just don't love them as much as you love your children?

  • @ Yale Parent

    "Throughout history it has been proven again and again:"

    Seriously? That's your argument. The old 'argumentum ad faux-historicism'?

    Actually, what history proves is that marriage has nothing to do, generally speaking, with love, but rather with social construct.

    Royalty used it to preserve power. Poor people used it to get dowries, maintain local status. It settled conflicts, and started new ones. Sometimes there heads got chopped off.

    Then, along came the great U S of A, and everything changed (Of course!). Anyone could marry anyone for love! Oh, wait, except people of different races. That was threatening (to the formerly utilitarian view of marriage, perhaps?).

    And now, here we are, and once again conservatives are standing athwart history, yelling 'Stop!' It's just that it has gotten kind of old, now, and if the 'defense' weren't so predictable and also so degrading, I'd laugh.

    The article said 'defend' because to say defend, without quotes, would be to take their side implicitly. You know, it's what newspapers do to avoid taking sides: they quote someone on one of the sides. And, for the record, it's copy editors who right headlines, not the reporters.

    And, Yale Parent, for the record, Darwin wants none of your psuedo-science. If there is one thing he might agree with, though, it's that populations change, and new generations replace older ones.

    Martin Luther King said it eloquently, that the arc of history bends towards justice.

    Part of it, of course, is never giving of the fight; the other half is that the younger generation isn't terrified of sexuality, and we overwhelmingly support marriage equality. I'll bet you $1000 that by the time I have grandchilden, this debate will be as much a non-issue as anti-miscegenation laws. The arguments you all use in court are even the same: that it doesn't violate equal protection because EVERYONE can marry someone of the opposite sex — just like EVERYONE could marry someone of the same race. No discrimination there, huh?

    The other irony, which I can't help but comment on, is that even as you deride non-biological parents, the anti-marriage-equality movement pushes adoption as the obvious alternative to letting women choose an abortion.


    Blood runs thicker than water.

  • Y'10


    I'm part of a biracial family--my half-brother and I were raised by my white parents as siblings but everyone always wanted to know if he was adopted. The racism of world we live in has caused a not-insignificant amount of tension within our family.

    So--racial tension in a family, that fundamental building block of society. Not "best," right YaleParent? Wouldn't it be better if we could just skip the racial tension? So let's reinstitute the ban on interracial marriage!

    …please stop these ludicrous arguments?

    Do you really think that parents are the only ones who have any perspective on what it feels like to be in a family? Do you think adopted children have something to say here? Do the children of gays and lesbians have something to say here? I hope you'll admit that they do. I haven't been a parent, and I think there are things to learn from that, but 1) there are lots of parents who have come to different conclusions than you have, and 2) claiming a monopoly on knowledge--fairly obnoxious.

  • Yale 99

    I hate to break this to some of you, but gay couples can have children who are blood relatives (at least to one parent) - the wonders of science. Or wait, do straight couples who have artificial insemination love their kids more than gay couples that do?

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