Prop 8: California gay marriage fight divides LDS faithful
Posted: 5:54 PM-
The thought of going to church in her southern California LDS ward makes Carol Oldham cry. She can't face one more sermon against same-sex marriage. She can't tolerate the glares at the rainbow pin on her lapel.
Oldham, a lifelong Mormon, is troubled by her church's zeal in supporting a California ballot initiative that would define marriage as between one man and one woman. She feels the church is bringing politics into her sanctuary.
"It has tainted everything for me," Oldham said, choking up during a telephone interview. "I am afraid to go there and hear people say mean things about gay people. I am in mourning. I don't know how long I can last."
The LDS Church's campaign to pass Proposition 8 represents its most vigorous and widespread political involvement since the late 1970s, when it helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment. It even departs from earlier efforts on behalf of traditional marriage, in which members felt more free to decide their level of involvement.
This time, LDS leaders have tapped every resource, including the church's built-in phone trees, e-mail lists and members' willingness to volunteer and donate money. Many California members consider it a directive from God and have pressured others to participate. Some leaders and members see it as a test of faith and loyalty.
Those who disagree with the campaign say they feel unwelcome in wards that have divided along political lines. Some are avoiding services until after the election; others have reluctantly resigned. Even some who favor the ballot measure are troubled by their church's zeal in the matter.
"I do expect the church to face a high cost - both externally and internally - for its prominent part in the campaign," said LDS sociologist and Proposition 8 supporter Armand Mauss of Irvine, Calif. He believes church leaders feel a "prophetic imperative" to speak out against gay marriage.
"The internal cost will consist of ruptured relationships between and among LDS members of opposing positions, sometimes by friends of long standing and equally strong records of church activity," Mauss said. "In some cases, it will result in disaffection and disaffiliation from the church because of the ways in which their dissent has been handled by local leaders."
Robert Rees, a former LDS bishop in California, says he has not witnessed this much divisiveness in the church over a political issue in the last 50 years.
Whatever the vote's outcome, Rees says, "it will take considerable humility, charity and forgiveness to heal the wounds caused by this initiative."
Latter-day Saints are free to disagree with their church on the issue without facing any sanction, said L. Whitney Clayton of the LDS Quorum of the Seventy. "We love them and bear them no ill will."
Still, he emphasized that most Mormons in California support the church's efforts on behalf of the initiative.
"Our doctrine affirms that marriage is important to Heavenly Father's plan of action on Earth," he said. "It is the center of religion. We also believe [traditional] marriage is good for society."
In 1999, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints joined other churches in California to promote Proposition 22, which also prohibited gay marriage. Mormons canvassed their neighborhoods and completed other assignments in support of the initiative, which passed. The California Supreme Court overturned it in May, however, and the move to up the ante with a constitutional amendment took hold.
At that time, Catholic Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco wrote LDS President Thomas S. Monson enlisting LDS support for the amendment. Niederauer had a good relationship with LDS leaders developed during his 11 years as bishop of Salt Lake City, and Latter-day Saints enthusiastically jumped on board.
The LDS First Presidency announced its support for Proposition 8 in a letter read in every Mormon congregation. Since then, California LDS leaders have prompted members to sign up volunteers, raise money, pass out brochures produced by outsiders and distribute lawn signs and bumper stickers. Bishops have devoted whole Sunday school classes and the weekly Relief Society and priesthood meetings to outlining arguments against same-sex marriage. Some have pointedly asked members for hefty financial donations, based on tithing. Others have even asked members to stand or raise their hands to publicly indicate their support.
Gary Lawrence, writing in the online Meridian Magazine, compared opponents of Proposition 8 to those who sided with Lucifer against Jesus in the pre-mortal existence. Others have questioned such members' faith and religious commitment, accusing them of undermining the prophet.
Literature written by Proposition 8 proponents is freely distributed in Mormon wards, giving the impression the church approves it, but much of it is "misinformation," said Morris Thurston, an LDS attorney in Orange County.
Thurston has circulated a point-by-point refutation to an anonymously authored document that has been widely disseminated by Mormons, "Six Consequences . . . If Proposition 8 Fails." Thurston argues that most of its arguments are either untrue or misleading.
He welcomes critiques of his analysis, but some have been hostile and many question his motives.
"I feel like I am entitled to my opinions, especially when they involve legal matters," Thurston said, "and I don't think I should be compared to Satan's minions."
Thurston noted that the intolerance of contrary opinion seems mostly to come from some California leaders and members. "The general church authorities I have spoken to have been understanding and compassionate," he said. "They counsel respect and civility toward those who may disagree with the church's position."
Many opponents choose to keep quiet at church, while seeking kindred spirits online. Several Web sites have emerged, including Mormonsformarriage.org, which give participants a chance to tell their stories, share their perspectives on the measure and swap information.
"We wanted to provide information and fact check the claims, and we wanted it to be provided by people who are still active and involved," said Laura Compton, one of the site's managers. "We get between 400 and 800 hits per day."
Compton's views are well known in her LDS ward, but she and her husband, LDS writer Todd Compton, have not been pressured at all. Their leaders have done a good job, she said, of keeping politics out of church.
She knows, though, that the conflict has taken its toll on California Latter-day Saints.
"Our wards are falling apart," Compton said. "But we still have to sit next to each other after the election."
It's especially painful for Mormon gays.
"How is the church going to minister to them when such operations are guaranteed to alienate them and their families?" Thurston asked. "Most of the gay members were orthodox Latter-day Saints in their teens and many went on missions. But eventually they found there was no place in the church for them and they went elsewhere."