Church's stand on California's Prop. 8 marginalizes Mormon Democrats
Recently a member of our LDS stake presidency spoke in our sacrament meeting in favor of Proposition 8, which would change the California Constitution so that homosexuals are banned from participating in marriage.
He did not explain how the church views homosexuals or why same-sex marriage was bad; instead, he simply stated that we needed to "follow the prophet" on this issue. If we had raised our right arms and sustained the prophet in the last General Conference, we needed to obey him now, by voting in the way he has directed, by paying as much money as possible to the cause of Prop. 8 (church leaders are giving many Mormons assessments to donate specific large amounts), and by knocking on doors and encouraging people in our neighborhoods to vote for Prop. 8. (The church has instructed us to donate to an organization called Protectmarriage.com.)
All of this is reminiscent of the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when leaders instructed members how to vote and Mormons willingly voted as a bloc. The church has not given us general principles, using education or persuasion, then asked us to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider the issue and vote on it. Instead, church leaders have instructed us to simply "follow the prophet" by voting for and supporting Prop. 8. While the church has made some talking points and arguments for Prop. 8 available, this has been almost an afterthought.
This has not been a problem for Republican Mormons, the great majority in our church, but it is a problem for the minority of Mormons who, like myself, are wholehearted Democrats. Banning gay marriage is an issue strongly associated with the Republican Party.
Among the leaders of Protectmarriage.com are the widow of William "Pete" Knight, Republican state senator in California, and his former chief of staff. The Wikipedia website on Prop. 8 tells us that its prominent supporters are Republican state senators and members of the Assembly. Protect marriage.com is required to disclose its expenditures, and on Feb. 5, 2008, it paid $500 to the California Republican Party under the Expenditure Code "Meetings and Appearances." I've been told that this money was spent for a booth, presumably for some Republican gathering.
The California Republican Party has officially endorsed a "yes" vote on Prop. 8, while the California Democratic Party has endorsed a "no" vote. McCain supports Prop. 8; Obama opposes it.
Banning homosexual marriage is not just a characteristic Republican issue; it's characteristic of the Republican far right. Karl Rove, who masterminded the technique of getting the Republican base out to vote by using divisive wedge issues, made banning homosexual marriage his preferred polarizing issue. In my view, Rove represents the worst in American politics. And now Mormon Democrats are being commanded to become close allies of Rove in this respect.
I've never understood the Republican argument that allowing homosexual marriage will prevent heterosexual marriage. However, I do know that typical Democrats conceptualize this as a civil rights issue. Homosexuals are a minority, different from the majority; therefore, there is a tendency for the majority to deny minorities, such as homosexuals, full civil rights. The Republican Party's record on civil rights in this century has been abysmal. There are no black Republicans in Congress, and this is not a problem for many Republicans. On the other hand, civil rights is an issue that Democrats care passionately about. So it is not surprising that most Republicans support Prop. 8, while most Democrats oppose it.
It's not hard to see the far-reaching consequences of the LDS Church's "follow the prophet" campaign for Prop. 8: Many Mormons will now use this issue as a litmus test for candidates. For example, one of my Mormon friends told me that he would not vote for Obama because of his position on same-sex marriage.
In addition, those rare liberal Democrats who remain active in the LDS Church will be made increasingly uncomfortable in their church attendance, as this characteristic Republican issue is continually pushed from the pulpit in LDS congregations. One friend of mine has declared he will no longer attend his long-time home ward because statements against Prop. 8 opponents have been so offensive to him. Another friend of mine incurred the wrath of his bishop and stake president because he quietly wore a rainbow pin to church.
The LDS Church always states that it is politically neutral; however, in this case it seems to be saying, "It's acceptable for church members to be Democrats, as long as they uphold characteristic Republican positions."
* TODD COMPTON is an independent historian whose book, In Sacred Loneliness: the Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, received the best book award from the Mormon History Association in 1998. A native of Provo, a graduate of BYU and UCLA, and a father of two, he presently works in a law firm in Palo Alto, Calif.