This post has two parts: first, I describe my conjecture about why the Mormon church has decided to involve itself so publicly in support of Prop 8 (conjecture based mostly on my personal impressions of this church via my history in it), and second, I discuss the misleading campaigning that the Yes folks are leading and a bit about why I'll be voting No on this proposition.
This issue is one that is increasingly alarming me, the more I learn. Recently, a good friend of mine sent out a video about a family in MA whose kindergartner was read a book at school about families, and that book had a gay couple on one page. This family was outraged and proceeded to tell their story of how legal same sex marriage meant that our children will be forced to learn about it at school. I was also urged to visit a website, protectmarraige.com, to learn more about Prop. 8. Although I was dismayed at what I read there, I felt a bit lucky at the same time, because, to be honest, I never would have read about what "the other side" thought about this issue had I not been contacted and urged to do so. I would have remained curious and perplexed about why so many religious people support such a discriminatory amendment to our state constitution. Receiving this email directly invited me to look into this, and I am grateful for that.
Early on, I was surprised to hear and read about the Mormon church's prominent role in campaigning for Prop. 8. Here's a link from the Wall Street Journal about their financial contributions alone, which total up to 1/3 of the money for the Yes campaign (as of the end of September). I spent several years attending the Mormon church as a child and young adult with my mother, who is still an active member. Although I've decided it is not a compelling religion for me, I respect that church for its many earnest members, my mom among them.
The Mormon church has always had a very hard line against homosexuality and teaches that it is a sinful lifestyle (the standard "love the sinner, hate the sin", the suggestion that it is a "special challenge" to be homosexual just like a short temper or other tendencies, and that members "who are attracted to the same gender" should avoid sin by living in the closet and should choose to repress those "inclinations" and remain celibate for their entire lives. Here's a great interview with church leaders on the subject, including how parents should instruct their homosexual kids, their choice to support prop 8, etc. And here's another link, the story of Stuart Matis, a gay Mormon man who suffered the consequences of the church's strict stance).
Reaching into my history at this church, their doctrine against homosexuality was my only clue about why they might be involved. But it seemed odd to me that they'd thrust themselves so publicly into the political realm, not just because of Jesus' suggestion that we keep religion and politics separate ("Render that which is Caesar's unto Caesar and unto God the things that are God's"..."My kingdom is not of this world..") but also because, in the approx. 7 years I attended church there, I can't recall a single instance where politics was mentioned. It was always just understood that most members were Republicans. (I can still recall feeling surprised that a car in the parking lot had a "Clinton/Gore" bumper sticker on it. Really? Someone here is a Democrat? I suppose some politics must have played a part in church culture to prompt such a reaction in a young kid.)
Opposition to homosexuality (and the belief that it is wrong), turns out, is the reason that individual Mormons have jumped aboard the "Yes on 8" ship. In my recent blog-surfing, I've come across some of their reasoning about about prop 8. Basically, it goes like this (taken directly from a blog): "The purpose of marriage is to procreate. If you define something else as marriage, something that by its very nature cannot possibly result in procreation, you have made a mockery of the institution." Side note, with an admitted tinge of my own mockery: it seems (darkly) humorous to me to think of marriage in these strictly utilitarian terms-- that committed, monogamous relationships are valuable insofar as they can produce babies. What pressure on the infertile! What loathing for self, to think that your value and the value of your marriage is measured in your children! What pressure on the children to perform dutifully and fall in line as a reflection of their parents' worthiness! What pressure on parents to make ever more children! What pressure on the single members, what pressure on divorced members, what pressure on children of divorce, what pressure on gay members... Ouch!
Mormons' (very odd) understanding of marriage's purpose may be a reason for individual church members to campaign for, and vote yes on Prop. 8, but that leaves the question for me of why, suddenly, the Church leadership wants to be publicly political: why it calls for en masse donations of time and money to this cause, why it is putting its name on this label. How does it benefit the Mormon brand to advocate for Prop. 8? And I've come to some conclusions, based on my research at the church's site, what I'm reading from members, and my own impressions of church culture as a child.
Basically, I think the church leadership has decided to be vocal about this political/cultural issue for two main reasons: the first, as a strategy to remain a competitive part of the church "market", and second, to gain legitimacy within Christendom as part of a coalition of concerned Christians all fighting a common enemy: homosexuality and secular tolerance.
One of the goals of the Mormon church is growth. An expected part being a Mormon is a duty to proselytize, or "share the gospel". As new members join up, the church increases their bottom line. When I attended, I remember the phrase "the fastest growing religion on earth" repeated often as a point of pride among members, and I believe this plays a part in the Mormons' involvement in Prop 8 campaigning. If same sex marriage becomes tolerated alongside "traditional" marriage, and our culture at large becomes accepting of gay marriages (gasp!), their message may become a harder sell. This would result in fewer converts, fewer members, as their doctrine seems ever more out of touch with mainstream consciousness. They may even lose their closeted, gay brothers and sisters when they are able to exit to a more accepting outside culture. Call me cynical, but that's how I see it. Strategy: Keep our message attractive by influencing outside culture to remain more sympathetic to ours. Basic religious business.
Anectodal evidence on the issue of retention: When I decided I was positively not-a-Mormon, I heard about it for a couple years. I received phone calls from well-meaning members, drop in visits, members checking on me and inviting me to return to the fold. I know their intentions were rooted in an honest concern for my eternal salvation, but they kept calling even after I asked them repeatedly to stop. I was left with a distinct impression-- it is hard to leave this church. The church is structured in a way to both retain and recruit membership to keep the numbers ever-growing (the "visiting teachers" and "home teachers", missionaries, and large families being the quickest examples of this). In the best of circumstances this is all done for the salvation of the world, and in the worst, it's about the big business of running a huge, centralized church.
Second, I believe the Mormons enjoy a benefit in being a part of a coalition of Christians who have joined together in support Prop 8. Mormons have a history of persecution (ironically, even connected to unpopular beliefs about marriage) and have been excluded from the category of Christian religions. Being associated with other Christian denominations in this collective fight lends them legitimacy via shared values and shared goals. They take a step closer to inclusion and recognition as a Christian faith.
While I can understand the Mormon church's self-interested role in this campaign, I think perhaps the most disappointing part of this saga for me, personally, is the way in which the "Yes on 8" crowd is campaigning. It is made up of the standard fear tactics and fallacious attacks that more voters should see through, but sadly (due in large part to the inherent bigotry associated with homosexuality), many voters do not.
Maybe part of the problem of why these lies are not more obvious is that they are coming from a source that many trust 100%. If you are sitting on a pew in a sanctuary and listening to your church leaders, who you believe have a direct line to God and receive revelation on a regular basis, and they tell you this proposition will have a variety of horrible consequences, it follows that you're going to believe that. However, this mix of religion in politics could backfire on the church if members don't accept their claims at face value, and look into this further. In fact, in my tooling around online I found a fascinating website, Feminist Mormon Housewives, where a writer posted a link about the misinformation that the Mormons are spreading out of concern that the Mormons' involvement would ultimately do more harm to the church than good-- it may ultimately damage the credibility of church leaders.
The basic thrust of their argument is that allowing same sex couples the same rights to marriage as straight couples threatens traditional marriage in some way, but they have been unsuccessful at honestly describing one. There is no actual threat-- no reason to deny gay couples rights to marriage other than discrimination. In fact, our family recently attended the marriage of two of our great friends, two women who've been together for nearly 12 years and are now (finally!) allowed to be married. Attending that celebration really brought this issue home for me: I saw up close the people who would be discriminated against if prop 8 is passed, and I also saw up close how their union has nothing to do with my "traditional marriage". It neither undermines, nor uplifts it.
Proposition 8 is all about altering our constitution to eliminate a right for a group of people. It is not about protecting what is taught in our schools, like that scary video with the family from MA suggested. Students have, and will always have, a way out of any instruction that parents decide is not appropriate for their child, contrary to the suggestion of the video I was sent. In fact, here's a recent Fresno Bee article about the Yes folks attempts to misrepresent this.
It's disappointing for me to see the Mormon church's involvement in this, especially spreading misleading and false information out there to try to persuade others. This law is fundamentally about discriminating (on the basis of sexual orientation) against a whole group of our citizens and denying them the same rights as the rest of us, not about the education of our children, and there is no threat from which heterosexual married couples need defending. Allowing same sex couples the same rights and recognition as heterosexual couples is about fairness and equality.
This post is in no way exhaustive: there are many points and counterpoints I've left unanswered here. But if you need a list of fact vs. fiction, the No on Prop 8 people have a good one to address most of the false arguments that the Yes crowd has put forward in an attempt to characterize same sex marriage as a relevant threat to our civilization-as-we-know-it. After that long-winded explanation of my recent research, personal history, and a little self-righteous outrage thrown in to boot, I urge everyone to vote no on Prop. 8.
Here's the entire text of the proposed law (prop. 8):
This initiative measure is submitted to the people in accordance with the
provisions of Article II, Section 8, of the California Constitution.
This initiative measure expressly amends the California Constitution by
adding a section thereto; therefore, new provisions proposed to be added are
printed in italic type to indicate that they are new.
SECTION 1. Title
This measure shall be known and may be cited as the “California Marriage
SECTION 2. Section 7.5 is added to Article I of the California Constitution,
SEC. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized
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