Mormons v. Marriage Equality
June 16th, 2009
In an article in Time Magazine, David Van Biema discusses the unique pressures and theological beliefs that led to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) contributing half the funds and nearly all of the manpower behind Proposition 8′s drive to remove civil marriage rights from same-sex couples.
Prop 8 constituted a kind of perfect political storm of theology, demographics and organization. At the Alameda Meeting House last June (as at other Mormon churches statewide), a letter from Monson and his counselors advised believers to “do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time.” A string of Protect Marriage coalition meetings followed. They never occurred on LDS property, but they were overwhelmingly Mormon in attendance and sought Mormon support. Alaina Stewart, a church member, was asked to employ a list of “who in the ward we thought could contribute. We’d call and say, ‘We’re asking you to give such and such an amount,’” she says.
Some declined… But the general authorities in Salt Lake City increased the pressure. A broadcast to all churches outlined the pro-8 ground campaign, with titles like “Thirty People in Each Ward” and “More than Four Hours per Week.” Craig Teuscher, the Alameda ward’s regional stake president, reiterated in church the seriousness of Monson’s request to congregants.
The new push for the proposition had a rational side: the church claimed that the legalization of gay marriage would threaten its tax-exempt status if it refused to perform gay nuptials. (Most legal scholars disagree.) But belief in Monson’s supernatural connection also played a big role. Says Stewart: “The Prophet’s telling us to stand up. When he speaks, you’re realizing that there may be things that I don’t see.” Asks Gayle Teuscher, the stake president’s wife: “If I believe that the Prophet is a true prophet of God and disregard his counsel, what does that say about my belief in God?”
Secure in their own self-defined moral superiority, Mormons were shocked and surprised to find that gay people confronted them after the election. And in progressive parts of the state they experienced a reaction they didn’t expect, the response of neighbors who now viewed them as one might view a racist or other bigot.
Three months after the election, she says, “I don’t feel quite the same way about our community.” She felt frozen out of conversations among other parents. “You think, This will go away. But it doesn’t seem to. I think about my kids in school,” she says. “I want them to be accepted, to feel it’s O.K. to be different.”
As Californians go into another round of voting on marriage equality either in 2010 or 2012, individual Mormons throughout the state will have to determine whether they are willing to heed the call of their Prophet to donate tens of millions of dollars and countless manhours in continuing a high-profile battle against the rights of their neighbors. And they will need to consider what this could cost them.
Gay leadership has changed. And under fresh leadership, gay activists will be perfectly willing to publically portray the LDS Church as an oppressive religious bully seeking to impose its peculiar views about Celestial Marriage on gay Christians and non-believers. And individual Mormons may well find that they will be perceived as haters, bigots, and opponents of freedom and equality.