The unfolding of Proposition 8 was bitter, with ugliness on both sides. My Church was heavily involved in promoting the divisive measure, a short amendment to the
constitution that reads: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or
recognized in California”.1 After
months of divisive debate, Prop 8 passed in with 52% of the vote. Some
estimates suggest that contributions by Mormons to pass the proposition totaled
20-30 million dollars.2 This amounted to about 50-75% of the funding
in support of the proposition even though Latter-day Saints constitute only
about 2% of the population of California .
In sum, over $80 million was spent in the campaigns for and against Prop 8, an
amount that apparently made it the costliest social issue to reach the nation’s
voters up to that time.3 California
Modeled after earlier efforts to combat same-sex marriage in Hawaii, Church participation in the Prop 8 campaign was channeled through a coalition.4 In the 1990s, Hawaii became one of the first states to confront the issue of gay marriage after a case claiming same-sex marriage discrimination made it to the state supreme court.5 D. Michael Quinn, a gay Mormon historian, described Church involvement in the Hawaiian campaign against same sex-marriage at both the local level and at Church headquarters.6 In fact, Quinn argued that the Church model of political participation via a coalition was patterned after its active opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970s. The
Proposition 8 brought substantial media attention to the public debate about same sex marriage, but of course it was only a relatively recent event in a long series of political battles within California about same-sex marriage – Prop 22, Mayor Newsom, Judge Walker, the California Supreme Court – this continues to be an on-going saga.
In 2000, I was a new graduate student in southern
As with Prop 8 later on, the Church actively encouraged membership participation to ensure that Prop 22 was enacted.8 I recall participating one day in a small effort to show support for the proposition. Our local institute (young adult religious education) group on campus had set up a booth along the wide walkway that led up to the university library. With a few other students, I hovered around the booth for a short time one day. I don’t recall staying that long or probably doing much more than handing out some pamphlets. Years later, reconstructing my thoughts and feelings of that experience would be difficult, but I can only imagine that I was an uncomfortable mess of emotion and conflict. In the strange myopia that being in the homosexual closet brings, in this season of life I was also probably as much concerned about blowing my carefully-crafted cover as a straight person as I was over the glaring juxtaposition of my own homosexuality and my Church’s anti-gay positions.
In 2008, as Prop 8 efforts began to ramp up, Church pressure on
By the time Proposition 8 came along and wedged itself for a season into the religious routine of Latter-day Saints, my mechanical acquiescence to the Church was beginning to erode. With a good friend in a key position in local Church leadership, I was still very much willing to listen to arguments against same-sex marriage. More than just an appeal to faith, were there solid rational arguments to oppose gay marriage? My friend and I had some discussions and I listened to his arguments, that now I can more readily identify as classic conservative reasons to oppose same sex marriage.9 For instance, a basic argument is that the principle function of marriage is to have and raise children. Gay unions obviously cannot lead to procreation.
As each of these types of arguments were advanced, I could recognize a basis of logic, but there were also valid counter-arguments. The procreation basis for marriage, for instance, suggests that there is no need for marriage for older couples well past child-rearing age or men and women who are unable physically or emotionally to have children. Thus, inconsistent logic emerges from this particular conservative argument – marriage exceptions can be made for heterosexual unions, but not homosexuals.
Shortly after the vote on 4 November 2008, Californians learned that Proposition 8 passed. From time to time an opinion is expressed that the Church was burned fairly badly by its involvement in Prop 8, though I think ultimately it is hard to quantify such an assertion. Certainly specific members were disaffected to varying degrees (some left the Church, others remained active but had wounded testimonies). Did tithing decline? How many members resigned? No doubt that inside and outside the Church, it’s fundamental opposition to gay marriage was and is unpopular with many people. Unfortunately, there seems to be a deeper feeling of distrust that emerged from the Prop 8 episode. In part, it was the tactics used in the political mobilization that left unease – the disproportionate sum of money,
Despite the negative effects of Prop 8 in
During Proposition 8 my most overriding feeling was that I wanted the entire debate to disappear. The larger political debate hit too close to home: my own microcosm of conflict between being gay and Mormon suddenly was being played out on a grand scale. No one in this larger debate was necessarily going to respect the internal sensitivities that I cultivated to prevent the conflict from erupting in fury within my own soul. Gays and devout Mormons each felt that they had an important stake in this debate. But what about persons who were gay AND Mormon? In response to the conflict, I largely chose non-response; I wanted to hide and wait for the election to pass. In the end, I voted in support of Prop 8 just as I had done with Prop 22. It was a reluctant vote, one born of guilt from not following what the Church expected of me I suppose. That day at the ballot box, I tried to balance my disappointment stemming from Prop 8 with my excitement about an engaging presidential election. But on the issue of gay marriage, I was not yet ready to assert my independence. I’m sorry,
In writing this post, I took some time to revisit some of the Prop 22 and Prop 8 history. On the one hand, these were uncomfortable episodes in my journey to understand my sexuality, but on the other hand, I think the dissonance caused by the Church’s involvement probably helped crack the closet door for me a little more with each event. Ultimately, the Church gains nothing of lasting value in these political forays into same-sex marriage. Gay marriage is advancing politically and most Americans of future generations will be embarrassed to look upon the resistance manifest in our day to the further advance of social justice. If marriage benefits individuals, families, and communities by promoting stability, commitment and sacrifice (as strong proponents of marriage reasonably claim), then it is an institution that LGBT persons need too. The pro-family Mormon Church should be a partner in advancing opportunities and freedoms for LGBT people. Yet sadly now it has dug in its heels, and like a stubborn person, it has chosen the fleeting pleasure of obstinacy over the long-term satisfaction of doing justice.
1. Section 7.5 of the
2. Estimates given by HRC here and here and a magazine article here.
3. HRC figure.
4. The rejection of same-sex marriages within Mormon theology is shared by other conservative religions including the Catholic Church. However, many Americans still feel uncomfortable with various unique aspects of Mormon doctrine, so the Church has seemingly determined that opposing same-sex marriage through a third party is an effective way to engage in the debate. Practically, funneling resources and volunteer efforts through a coalition allows the Church to collaborate with like-minded groups and yet maintain enough distance from the issue to blunt significant damage to the Church’s public image.
5. See Wikipedia articles here and here.
6. D. Michael Quinn. 1997. The Mormon Hierarchy. Extensions of Power. Smith Research Associates.
7. Some Prop 22 history.
8. Link here.
9. See Sullivan, A. 1996. Virtually
10. Support sought for
11. “Marriage and Religious Freedom”
12. Elder Oaks, a Mormon apostle with a legal background, has in particular been in the forefront of making the LDS case that conservative religions are modern victims. See the following speeches at