News

Editorials Berate Mormons for Anti-Gay Activism

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Dec 2, 2008

In the days following voter approval of California's Proposition 8, the amendment to the state constitution that revokes what had been an existing right for gay and lesbian families to marry, opponents took note, and took umbrage, to the active role that the Mormon church had played in the amendment's promotion and eventual passage.

Referring to the Mormon church's leadership having instructed its membership to support the amendment financially and through volunteerism, and focusing on the contribution of an estimated $20 million by Mormons nationwide to market the amendment, opponents wondered aloud whether the Mormon church had crossed the line between church and state and should have its tax-exempt status revoked.

Now, another question has surfaced regarding the involvement of the Mormon church in the marketing of Proposition 8: whether the church realized that by becoming so deeply immersed in a secular, political struggle involving civil rights, that it would invite the sort of rough political discourse that such struggles often involve.

Pro-Proposition 8 groups--many of them conservative religious organizations--have attacked gay and lesbian demonstrators, bloggers, and others, claiming that the anti-Proposition 8 side are anti-Christian. Names have been called ("bigot" is a favorite on both sides), and some pro-Proposition 8 bloggers have taunted Prop. 8 critics for targeting the Mormons, inviting them to attack adherents of the Islamic faith, with the implication being that Islamic devotees are prone to violence and will answer such criticisms with terrorist acts. (Similar taunts invite critics to aim their commentary at urban black males, a reference to the 70 percent of black voters who supported the amendment.)

Indeed, as an editorial at Greenvilleonline asks, "Why the Mormons?"

After all, other denominations also supported the amendment, such the Baptists and other evangelical Christian churches, as did conservative branches of Judaism and the Roman Catholic Church.

But the Mormon church's financial investment was so large and so prominent that the church inevitably came in for scrutiny and criticism.

Said the Greenvilleonline article, "Recently gay-rights activist Dan Savage gave CNN a simple explanation: 'Part of the democratic process is if you throw a punch, you're going to have a punch thrown back.'"

The article allowed, "Mormon leaders should have anticipated blowback after they directed all of their California congregations to get involved in the 'Yes on 8' campaign.

"Perhaps they didn't foresee just how outsized the response would be: Mormons made up the lion's share of volunteers and gave what the other side estimates is as much as $20 million.

"That's impressive involvement in a state where 770,000 Mormons are a mere 2 percent of the population," the article continued.

The Greenvilleonline article goes on to say that a TV ad produced by the No on 8 campaign still smarts for Mormons. The ad depicts two young Mormon missionaries invading the home of two women married to one another, snatching their rings off, and tearing up their marriage license.

"We have rights!" one woman cries.

In answer the Mormons laugh, "Not if we can help it!"

The ad sums up the sense by gay and lesbian families' sense that big government has intruded into their homes, as has a system that allows minority rights to be curtailed by majority vote.

For Mormons, however, the ad is insulting and implies that their faith is a violent one.

Conservative Christian groups, in their turn, have taken up the ad as proof that gays and lesbians are against Christianity, a virtual continuation of claims made to sell Prop. 8 that insisted that marriage equality would lead to a loss of religious freedoms.

Such claims were denounced as fear-mongering, but they found an audience, along with a claim that unless marriage equality were revoked, young children would be forced to learn about gay families in grade school, or even in kindergarten.

Conservative Christian groups have also attacked anti-Prop 8 groups and demonstrations as being violent, cherry-picking a few isolated instances in which events got out of control--instances that are exceedingly rare, given the 300 cities in which anti-Prop. 8 demonstrations have taken place, almost all of them peaceful in nature and without incident.

The most widely cited incident involved a Palm Springs candle light vigil that was intruded upon by an elderly woman carrying a Styrofoam cross. Witnesses reported that Phyllis Burgess pressed into the crowd, pushing through the thick of the assembly to get to a film crew that had videotaped her five days earlier, when Burgess carried a cross into a Gay Pride parade.

Several members of the crowd became enraged and took the Styrofoam cross away from Burgess, before throwing it to the ground and stomping it to pieces--even as the vigil's organizers called out for peace and calm.

The Greenvilleonline article summarized, "Although Prop 8 supporters characterized their campaign as 'pro-marriage,' say gay groups, it was actually hateful and 'anti-gay.'"

Noted the article, "Both sides, of course, have a First Amendment right to make these arguments and to attack one another with zeal.

"Mormons or members of any other religious group are free to enter the political fray and argue vigorously for what they believe.

"And supporters of gay rights are just as free to fight back.

However, the article cautions, "Before this clash escalates further, both sides should exercise caution and reconsider their battle plans going forward."

The article praised religious leaders, both Mormon and non-Mormon, who called for respectful discourse over the matter of the civil rights of gay and lesbian families.

Similarly, the article posited that both sides risk a public relations disaster by either throwing names at each other or, in the case of the Mormon-backed anti-marriage equality campaign, "use scare tactics about homosexuality in elementary schools and misrepresent the religious-liberty threat to churches."

Predicted the article, "The side that wins minds and hearts with robust but civil discourse is far more likely to prevail."

But not all of the problems encountered by the Mormon church are of a social nature; there are legal questions that have emerged, also, including a complaint against the church that the California state fair elections commission is now looking into.

In a Nov. 29 editorial, The New York Times expressed support for that investigation, noting, "Mormons were a major force behind the ballot measure.

"Individual church members contributed millions of dollars and acted as campaign foot soldiers," continued the editorial.

"The church itself also played an unusually large role. Michael R. Otterson, the managing director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--the full name of the Mormons' church--said that while the church speaks out on other issues, like abortion, 'we don't get involved to the degree we did on this.'"

However, once again, it is the Mormons' financial support of the amendment that is being questioned. Reported the New York Times, "Fred Karger, the founder of a group called Californians Against Hate, who filed the complaint, contends that the Mormon Church provided significant contributions to the pro-Proposition 8 campaign that it did not report, as state law requires."

The article offered details. "The Fair Political Practices Commission of California is investigating, among other things, commercials, out-of-state phone banks and a Web site sponsored by the church."

Church officials claim that they stayed within the boundaries of the law; however, if the state's commission finds otherwise, the church may end up facing steep fines.

Noted the New York Times, "Churches, which risk their tax-exempt status if they endorse candidates, have more leeway in referendum campaigns.

"Still, when they enter the political fray, they have the same obligation to follow the rules that nonreligious groups do."

Readers, as well as writers, of newspapers are also making their voices heard on the issue. One of the more eloquent and succinct letters to the editor on the subject was published in The Boston Globe on Nov. 28, and was written by Boston resident Don Gorton, who observed, "It seems that Mormon supporters of California's Proposition 8 want it both ways."

Continued Gorton's letter, "On the one hand, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mounted a bare-knuckles political fight to ban same-sex marriage.

"The network of LDS wards and stakes coalesced into a tax-subsidized political machine, energetically fund-raising and mobilizing campaign volunteers to influence public policy."

The letter continued, "On the other hand, when faced with the criticism that is standard fare in politics, Mormon church spokespeople waved the bloody shirt of religious persecution, as if anyone were seeking to impinge upon the free exercise of religion."

Gorton allowed that, "The Mormons have every right to participate in the political process," but added that, "the LDS church overreaches when it politicks with the benefit of federal and state tax exemptions, then spurns accountability for an apostolically sanctioned crusade to enshrine sectarian beliefs in secular law."

Another writer in that same day's edition addressed the church's complaints of hostility from angry gay and lesbian citizens who felt that their family rights had been infringed upon.

Wrote Lexington resident Jonathan Dreyer, "Here's a clue for 'people of faith' who bemoan their unfriendly treatment by gay activists: Once you stop attacking their human rights, people get a lot friendlier."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


Comments

  • Doug Forbes, 2008-12-02 18:31:48

    Dear moron bigot anti-Mormon Nazi pigs. Let me give you a 3rd grade lesson on human rights. The "Gay marriage" movement is NOT a continuation of the movement to abolish laws against sodomy. It is the anti-thesis of it. The opposition to criminal sanctions against sodomy was consistent with a libertarian view that the government should mind it’s own business. Gay marriage, by contrast insists that the government (read majority) mind the business of gays whether they want to or not. There is no right to have the government recognize a voluntary relationship. Recognition of marriage as a special status is purely a discretionary policy of any government. We don’t have to spend tax dollars on gay divorces if we don’t want to. They is a right to procreate. There is a right to form a family. There is a right to privacy. There is no right to marriage which is state recognition and regulation of a personal relationship. BTW You guys are way to stupid to breed. Thank heaven you are gay.


  • , 2008-12-02 19:18:08

    It is clear from the comment above (and on other sites) that this issue has stirred up a lot emotion. There seems to be lack of informed debate. I think it would be helpful if we all tried focusing on the merits of our own arguments rather than the flaws of others’. My argument for proposition 8 is that we have a duty to clarify the law (especially when four judges take the liberty of misinterpreting its original intent to further their political beliefs). Changing the definition of marriage is corrosive to the fundamental building block of American (and most other) societies, and given the current divorce rates among heterosexuals, our society is already under enough stress. Personally, I feel like the No on 8 campaign is squawking because they wanted the majority of voters to put their stamp of approval on their lifestyle, and they found out that most people’s values differ from their own. Please don’t argue that values should not be a part of the law unless you are ready to attack the basis of all American law. Values have always been a part of legislation. They only become a problem when a minority imposes them on the majority - not the other way around. That is what democracy is all about. Disagree? Why don’t we allow robbery, assault, etc... if they are mere examples of the survival of the fittest? Further, we all have the same rights - including the right to be different. I am different and people frequently point that out to me. Sometimes it hurts, but if I weren’t OK with myself I would probably change.


  • , 2008-12-02 21:47:35

    Thank you for reporting on this very charged topic in a somewhat neutral tone. It seems that the majority of journalists heavily oppose proposition 8 and that is evident in their articles. I am in favor of protecting marriage as between one man and one woman. I don’t harbor feelings of hate or dislike for gays or anyone else not like me but I feel strongly that marriage is not a thing that society can redefine on a whim. I agree strongly with the previous comment.


  • , 2008-12-02 23:50:01

    Interesting, I note that a lot of these comments sections for Prop 8 articles seem to be populated by several anti-SSM comments very soon after the article goes up. Only later do the pro-SSM posts arrive. Eventually, they outnumber the initial rush of anti-SSM posts.So, is there a crew of anti-SSM trolls looking for new prop 8 articles to pop up so they can ’tag’ them first?Y’all have a LOT of time on your hands, don’t you?


  • , 2008-12-03 01:15:40

    mormons are an easy targe because they are not mainstream. imagine the backlash if liberals for gay marriage attacked jewish groups (or blacks, or hispanics, or ...) who opposed same sex marriage. aren’t mormons now deemed the enemy because they were effective?


  • , 2008-12-03 01:48:46

    I have been LDS and straight all my life, yet have been roommates and friends with gay men, both LDS and not LDS. I consider all of my gay friends some of the dearest friends I have ever had. It has been years since I have seen these guys, but would love to have them over to meet my wife and family. I have met their partners and genuinely care that that they are happy. Yet, do I want marriage to be defined as a man and a man? No, and my friends know this. But, if I end up losing on this issue down the road on yet another vote, will I shun them from my business, church, neighborhood, family get together or wedding of a son or a daughter. Of course not. But I will move forward and my friends will always be my friends. But, in the meantime, I believe we must vote our hearts - we just need to make sure our hearts our right and many did vote with conviction in this last election and some apparently cannot handle the defeat by the citizens twice now. So we fight on, but let us do so in a spirit of decorum and decency. Gotta run...the 2 yr. old is coughing. Best to all.


  • , 2008-12-03 18:53:47

    I read this on wikipedia and was just struck by it:"Stuart Matis, a celibate homosexual, stated "Straight members have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up gay in this church. It is a life of constant torment, self-hatred and internalized homophobia."[74] Stuart later committed suicide at an LDS chapel in Los Altos, California.[75] After two of his gay friends also committed suicide, Affirmation members began to hold suicide vigils around the country to raise awareness about suicide prevention and the destructive consequences of homophobia. Suicide victims are posted on its website."Maybe the Mormons don’t realize this, but they’re not hurting the LGBT community. We are now ready to fight for our rights. The people you are hurting are the young ones, especially the LDS ones who are trying to understand their sexuality. You’re telling them that they are lesser human beings in the eyes of God. You are putting these kids at risk for suicide. You are bullying kids who can’t defend themselves. Well I stand up to bullies. Mormons have a LOT OF NERVE telling anyone how to live. Black people weren’t allowed to be members until 1978? The LDS church is obviously completely out of touch.It’s time the LDS community is called out for bullying kids! It’s time for all adults of conscience to stand up for the kids who can’t defend themselves against their hatred!


  • , 2008-12-04 00:06:32

    Wikipedia probably is not the most reliable place to find information on topic this controversial. Having firsthand knowledge, I can say that the LDS church is incredibly sensitive to youth struggling with homosexuality. While there certainly are intolerant members of the church, church leaders are teach the membership to love and support. Implying that the LDS position on gay marriage leads to teen suicide seems like hysteria (or propaganda). Prop 8 has nothing to do with bullying teenagers. It is about defining marriage. Also, there seems to be an underlying assumption in your comment that homosexuals have no choice in the matter, and that they could not possibly be happy living any other way. I have taken the time to examine the supposed studies that claim to have found the genetic/organic basis for homosexuality and discovered their methodology to be embarrassingly flawed. The research seemed to be driven by the desire to validate homosexuality as inherent and immutable. However, this design was abandoned quickly once it became painfully obvious that such attempts were simply fishing expeditions and were creating more skepticism than validation. I am not saying that it is impossible that there is some genetic basis for a propensity towards homosexuality; I am just saying that it has yet to be found. In any case


  • , 2008-12-05 18:11:29

    This issue is really extremely simple. It all comes down to whether marriage (as licensed and regulated by the government) is a religious institution, or a civil one. If it’s a religious one, then the government needs to allow consenting adults of all faiths the freedom to marry as they choose (there are many Christian faiths in the U.S. today that specifically sanction homosexual marriage). If it’s a civil institution, the issue is slightly more complex...but the answer is the same. While the government has the right and duty to make value judgments, it does not generally have the right to treat people differently, without some sort of rational basis for doing so. And that’s really what all of this comes down to: why would anyone deny two consenting adults who say they are in love the right to marry? What possible rational basis is there, for something so cruel? Even opponents of gay marriage rarely make arguments anymore that allowing it would harm anyone (since it so obviously wouldn’t), just that it’s somehow not "right". This, and the practices of the past, are not enough of a reason to continue a form of discrimination that simply doesn’t make sense. I personally believe that marriage is a sacrament, not a civil institution. If so, the only proper role of government is to sanction civil unions in a non-discriminatory fashion, leaving the sacrament of "marriage" where it belongs: in houses of worship, blessed and conducted by those of faith, according to their faith. Surely that would further the cause of religious freedom, support our constitution, and help those of us with different views about how God wants us to live our lives, to live together in peace. Whether or not a heterosexual or homosexual civil union should be considered a "marriage" is surely a matter of faith, not one of government.


  • , 2008-12-06 13:09:21

    The Mormon Church has a long and sordid history of winding-up on the wrong side of the law. In the early days of the Church, the members were chased from one community to another for their practice of poligamy.Now, it seems the Church finds itself at the forefront of another battle. The realities are stark, given the history of the Church in such matters. The church and its membership believes it has a moral duty to stop gays and lesbians from enjoying the same rights of marriage, as they enjoy. As an ex-communicated member of the Mormon church, I find it ironic they would risk all to delve into a battle they will probably lose in court again. Prop 8 is being challenged in court once again, and from the arguments I have heard on both sides, I believe the Prop 8 people will once again lose this battle in court. Something else I wanted to reply to regarding this debate has to to do with the role of the courts in this matter. It is the duty of the courts (under our system of government) to rule on the legality of laws), so to say it was a liberal court that decided the verdict, is both inane and obtuse.


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