ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Nearly 66,000 people live in St. Cloud, a city with some unpredictable politics. Although Republicans represent the city in both the state legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives, the city voted for President Obama in 2008.
But perhaps it's not surprising that in a city named after a saint and settled by Catholic Germans, faith seems to be a primary factor for how the marriage amendment is playing out.
The state-wide conversation also began in St. Cloud, given that Rep. Steve Gottwalt, St. Cloud, helped put marriage on the ballot.
"I don't run away from that at all," said Gottwalt, a three-term Republican running for his fourth term.
Gottwalt, also a father of four, said he carried the amendment not out of hate for the gay community, but out of fear that so-called activist judges or legislators could end up defining what he considers a cornerstone of the community.
"It's really unfortunate that it has been characterized as hateful or discriminatory or bigoted or homophobic or the other terms that have been used around it, because that's absolutely wrong-minded," Gottwalt said.
He continued, "This is about marriage. In society throughout world history, when a man and a woman -- complimentary opposites -- come together and there's that potential for the creation of a human life -- it's always been in society's best interest, not even religiously, but in society's best interest, that the child comes into a committed relationship," Gottwalt said.
But what Gottwalt argues may be a civic responsibility, the St. Cloud Catholic Diocese believes also becomes a religious necessity.
"Marriage as an institution predates social structures, predates law, predates even the life of the church," said Father Tom Knoblach.
Knoblach and Chris Codden, Director of the Office of Marriage and Family, have headed up the Diocese outreach on the marriage amendment issue. Knoblach said no other recent issue has divided the Catholic faithful as deeply as the marriage amendment.
"It's one of the burning questions of the election cycle this time," Knoblach said.
One St. Cloud mother knows personally the extent to which the issue is difficult. Amy Engebretson grew up a Southern Baptist. Today she describes herself as "spiritual." But she approaches the marriage question more as a mother -- than as a Christian. Amy's 30-year-old son is gay and engaged to a man from Canada. His relationship has become a point of contention for Amy's conservative family.
"My one sister said, 'I don't think, I don't think I even want them in my house, those two. I just don't think so.' That hurts. That hurts, and I think that's when I first thought how much it must hurt them, if it hurts me like that," she said.
Engebretson doesn't know how she'll vote on the amendment. She hasn't been able to decide how to weigh the effects on her son versus the society as a whole.
"What's right for him? Is that harmful to society? Is that going to cause long-term harm to society?" she asked.
Jonathan Carlson, 28, has attempted to answer those profound questions all his life. Although comfortable with his identity as a gay man today, he grew up as a son of a Lutheran pastor and as an Eagle Scout. He now spends his nights volunteering for Minnesotans United for All Families, the organization working to defeat the amendment.
"I went through a lot of depression and suicidal tendencies trying to figure out who I was, and I feel that this marriage amendment would reenforce that and make it harder for gay and lesbian kids to figure out who they are," Carlson said.
Figuring out who it -- as a city -- is, reconciling a history of faith with a ballot question of today, it's happening in St. Cloud as much as anywhere in the state.
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