A report last week released by Equally Blessed, a coalition of four pro-LGBT Catholic organizations (Call to Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry), revealed that the Catholic fraternal order of the Knights of Columbus has emerged as one of the leading opponents of marriage equality all across the country. Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times summarizes the report’s findings:

Between 2005 and 2012, the Knights channeled $6.5 million to campaigns against same-sex marriage – most of it to political campaigns in 12 states to pass ballot measures that would ban marriage for gays and lesbians. . .

The report, based on public Internal Revenue Service forms and campaign filings, said that the $6.5 million was probably an undercount because the Knights have not yet filed their I.R.S. forms for 2011 or 2012.

The report found that $1.9 million of the total went to the National Organization for Marriage, a group that has coordinated statewide campaigns to pass anti-gay marriage initiatives.  Gay marriage initiatives are on the ballot in four states in November: Washington, Maine, Maryland and Minnesota.

As a former Catholic, I can vouch for the fact that the Knights of Columbus are deeply embedded in American Catholic culture. They’re well-known in parishes across the country for their fish fries, bingo nights, raffles, and fundraisers. (They also sell insurance, which is the source of the majority of their revenue.) Local parish chapters are composed mostly of kind-hearted grandfatherly types. And as Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, notes, most Knights of Columbus supporters are totally unaware of the organization’s anti-gay activities:

 “So many of us have memories of our fathers and grandfathers putting on their Knights’ regalia to march in parades and participate in special Masses. We remember them raising scholarship money so Catholic kids could go to college. It is deeply disheartening to know that this same organization is requiring its members to contribute to campaigns aimed at making sure that some of those kids are treated as second-class citizens.”

The New York Times reports that the Knights’ role in fighting LGBT equality isn’t only unknown to everyday Catholics, but even comes as a surprise to many of the Knights themselves:

Edmund Burg, who joined the Knights of Columbus 65 years ago when he returned from serving in the Pacific theater, said he was close to following the example of a friend and resigning his membership.

Mr. Burg lives in Minnesota, where the Knights and the Catholic bishops have backed an amendment to change the state Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.  Mr. Burg said he learned about the Knights’ involvement only after reading news media reports revealing that the Knights had helped to pay to send a DVD opposing gay marriage to about 400,000 Catholic households, including his.

“It’s really shameful that an organization like the Knights of Columbus that does a lot of good work, goes and smears their record by supporting something like anti-gay marriage,” said Mr. Burg, a Catholic who said he supports his local parish but is disillusioned with the bishops.

Freedom to Marry has released a helpful graphic that puts the anti-gay activities of the Knights of Columbus in context. Check out how many poor children could have been given a coat this winter, for example, with the money the Knights have spent fighting marriages like mine. Atrocious, isn’t it?