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California Proposition 8

October 6, 2011

D&C 134:9

We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

This blog post is likely to very different than the other ones.  I’m not gay and have never had any sort of gay thoughts or desires, but I simply cannot be dispassionate about this particular topic.  While my studies on church history had commenced far earlier than Proposition 8, it was the first time that I felt that what a supposed prophet of God was telling me was not only wrong, but evil.

For much of my life, I was homophobic.  I would use epithets or slurs and was degrading towards gay people (though as far as I was aware, not to their faces).  It is my greatest shame and regret.  While I would love to blame it entirely on the church and its teachings, the fault is clearly mine.  However, there was certainly no discouragement in my vile thoughts, words and actions from the church in any way or form.  If anything, that basic attitude was reinforced throughout my life by an organization that claimed the founder and central member of its faith once said, “These things I command you, that ye love one another.”  Anyone who felt that the church’s involvement in CA Prop 8 was in keeping with that commandment was horribly misinformed and just plain wrong.

To the gay community and any whom I may have offended, I sincerely apologize.  I was a bigot and an idiot.

How does the church approach politics?

The church’s stated position on politics has been murky at best through the years.  It has been heavily involved, from the city level to state and national levels, despite claiming some sort of peculiar neutrality.  On the marriage issue, it was incensed when told by the government that it could not perform marriages as its doctrines commanded and was forced to renounce polygamy as a practice, though certainly not as a doctrine.  Yet it fought against interracial marriage.  And it has fought numerous times to block same-sex marriages as well.  The hypocrisy is incredible.

The church’s current stance on political “neutrality” is here. If you skip the eighth bullet point, you get the idea that the church is strictly opposed to any political involvement.  Of course, that one bullet point disabuses the notion entirely and essentially grants the church unlimited involvement into political action by claiming that an issue that has moral or community consequences, subject only to its own interpretation.

Some of the words for that political “neutrality” stance were taken directly from President Hinckley in 1996:

“The Church does not endorse any political party or any political candidate, nor does it permit the use of Church buildings and facilities for political purposes.”

Of course, Californian members now know that is completely false.  I myself sat through numerous meetings in the chapel that were purely political meetings.  These meetings were held instead of Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society for many months in my Ward.  They were organizational mostly.  People were assigned tasks.  Bumper stickers and lawn signs were distributed.  Members were taught how to participate in phone sweeps.  Neighborhoods were divided up for door to door knocking.  Suggestions for using social media were traded around.  And of course, donations were frequently requested.  Clearly, the church was endorsing a political platform and was using its buildings for political purposes.

The church’s stance on homosexuality, in opposition to most scientists as well as people who are actually gay, is that it is a choice: that it can be overcome or cured.  On February 25, 2000, a lifelong celibate gay Mormon by the name of Stuart Matis shot himself in the head on the steps of my church building in Los Altos, California.  He had strived his entire life to change his desires and conform to the church’s teachings.  He said, “Either one is gay or one is Christian. As I believed that I was a Christian, I believed that I could never be gay….The scary truth of matters is that I would really rather be dead than living outside of the Church.”  Stuart took his own life two weeks before the vote on California Proposition 22, the precursor to Proposition 8 and another anti-gay proposition the church endorsed.  In 2004, the Utah Department of Health reported that the leading cause of death for males between the ages of 15-44 was suicide.  It was declared an epidemic.

Mormon arguments for Prop 8

Aside from doctrine, what were the given reasons for Prop 8 and the church’s support of it?  The ads, sponsored by the $22 million dollars Mormons donated to the campaign, brought up four main points.

  1. Churches would somehow be forced to perform gay marriages, including in sacred temples.  This is completely false, has no historical bearing when and where gay marriages were already legal, and is patently ridiculous when studied objectively.  Put simply, churches right now can choose who they marry and who they can deny.  No religion has ever been forced in modern US history to perform a marriage it opposed for any reason, including race, creed or sexual preference.
  2. Adoption agencies, specifically church-operated agencies, would be forced to cater to gay couples.  First, I firmly reject the notion that someone’s sexual orientation has any bearing on their ability as a parent. Second, Proposition 8 dealt solely with marriage. Any argument made about the Catholic adoption agency in Massachusetts is pointless, since there is a more than decade-old law there regarding orientation discrimination that has nothing to do with same-sex marriage.
  3. Kids would be taught about same-sex marriage in school.  I grew up in California.  I was never taught about marriage in school. Attending all my math, science, English, history, and other classes, I must have missed the family and marriage class. Incidentally, I did learn curse words, observe drug use, witness alcohol abuse, and hear all kinds of crude things during my school years.  That’s what good parenting is for.
  4. Gay marriage is morally wrong.  This one is all kinds of trouble. I’ll go point by point.
  • The church teaches that gay sex is an extremely serious offense.  What about gay marriage without sex?  Is the act of getting married to someone of the same gender, without any physical intimacy, as bad as homosexual fornication?  I have news for church leaders: the same-sex marriages being performed are probably not as worrisome morally to you as the actual physical acts these people are already participating in and that are entirely legal.
  • This country was built upon many ideals, one being a separation of church and state. That’s why the church is a tax-exempt entity and the expectation is that it won’t interfere in politics.
  • In essence, the church was attempting to force its morals on other people.  Wouldn’t even church members find it ridiculous if the church campaigned this hard to make drinking coffee illegal? Or saying a prayer to a different Deity? How about making it illegal for stores to be open on Sundays?  I bet Jews, whose Sabbath falls on Saturday, would be thrilled about that one.  Why can’t the church simply accept that these people have a different belief system and that these marriages are civil in nature?
  • No LDS scriptures, aside from a single quote of the Bible in the Book of Mormon, address it.
  • The Bible is often misunderstood to decry homosexuality as a terrible sin.  Another great read here.

Politics

In 1967, Chief Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court had this response to interracial marriage:

The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men …  Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has this to say:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

So why, on the basis of misguided moral grounds, did church leaders and members attempt to make such a law?  Even worse, they made a change to the State Constitution, a document created for the purpose of protecting civil rights.

When the proposition was declared Unconstitutional by Judge Walker, voters who had supported it were incensed.  The anger was not unexpected; these were people who voted to remove civil rights from a minority group.  This was exactly the reason why the Founders had created a system of checks and balances.  If there was a proposition to make white people pay more taxes than black people in Alabama and it received greater than 50% of the votes, wouldn’t you hope the law would be declared Unconstitutional?  That’s how our government functions.

Was it revelation?

Church members donated an estimated $22 million to the campaign as well as countless hours.  The ads created with that money clearly lied about education, religious marriage, and adoption.  But was this all from revelation?  More importantly, if Proposition 8 had failed, how would church members have felt after donating so much time and money?

The church may be spared from some of those questions simply because so much time has already passed.  But it’s clear that Proposition 8, even though it did initially pass, is likely doomed for ultimate failure as it was initially declared Unconstitutional and seems eventually headed to the Supreme Court.

Is being gay a choice?

Christian churches, and especially the Mormon church with its doctrine regarding the Pre-existence, are dependent upon this point for preaching that homosexuality is a sin.  While the Mormon church sometimes specifies the sin as the physical act of homosexual intimacy rather than the desire itself, it nonetheless encourages through its actions, policies, and doctrine a system of judging and bullying of homosexuals.  However, the Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics, every single major mental health institute in the US, and hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have shown that it is based on biology rather than choice or preference.

Just in this blog, I have shown numerous examples when a leader of the church has claimed to not receive revelation for the church, has lied, or has been dead wrong about revelation.  We can see with things like the Word of Wisdom that sometimes the “doctrine” evolves according to who is in charge at the time.  So even for someone who believes they are prophets, what they say regarding this flies in the face of science and reason.  Gay people suffering through their secret desires don’t have much of a choice.  They can’t just flip a switch and decide they’re not gay.  You can’t pray the gay away.

If it’s not a choice, if it is in fact biological, then why is it a sin?  Because it flies in the face of the “traditional” marriage that people are comfortable with?  Frankly, I think it’s bigotry and bullying.

What did I do?

I was incredibly hurt and angry that my supposedly Christian religion would do all this.  As I mentioned, it was the first time I ever made a firm decision to directly contradict a living prophet’s words.  I repeatedly walked out of church meetings that were nothing more than political rallies.  I refused to participate in cold-calling people, knocking on their doors, displaying bumper stickers and signs that supported the removal of civil rights, and made sure to vote no on the ballot.

I am ashamed to say that I did not stand up in church and voice my discontent.  I didn’t even blog about it until years later, and even then held back my true feelings until now.  I felt deeply that the church was wrong and I stayed silent.  Such is my shame and I will always regret it.  It has gnawed at my conscience like a dog with a bone.  A church claiming to be the one true church with Christ as its head should be ashamed for supporting it so vehemently, especially with such deceitful tactics.

But I certainly don’t blame the members who supported Proposition 8. It’s incredibly difficult as a faithful member to even conceive of the notion that the current leaders of the church may be wrong on claimed revelation, let alone make the conscious decision that they are wrong.

Less than a month before his suicide, Stuart Matis wrote a letter to his cousin. I cannot recommend enough reading the next blog post, which contains that entire letter.  If you read nothing else in this blog, read his letter.

Next step: Stuart Matis’ Letter to His Cousin

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