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God vs. Gays: Prop 8 and The LDS Church's Vendetta
As most Americans are aware, Proposition 8 was a highly controversial piece of California legislation regarding same-sex marriage. Its aim was to amend the California constitution to read specifically that marriage would only be recognized by the courts as being between a man and a woman.
In November 2008, the proposition was passed in to law by a narrow margin. Gay rights activists, crushed, protested in the streets throughout the entire country. Many people were outraged at the outcome of this bitterly divisive decision.
One particular issue that has set off a firestorm of heated debate is the high degree of support the California proposition received from a church headquartered in Utah.
*It's important to pause quickly to note that not all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) are in favor of Proposition 8. It's also important to mention that this article examines the church as a political entity and is in no way meant to insult or offend its members.*
Here in Utah, the LDS church has a huge presence. The Mormons settled the Salt Lake Valley and most of the surrounding area. Their main temple is located downtown and is the central point from which our city is plotted, like a graph. I can see its steeple from my window at this very moment. It's a beautiful piece of architecture and I'm glad it's there.
I have often disagreed with some of the political leanings of the church - anyone who has lived in The Beehive State knows that church and state DO mix here, like it or not. I've come to find, though, that most Mormons are absolutely amazing people. They, if I may generalize here, are usually kind, hard-working, generous, and welcoming. Some of the dearest people in my life, past and present, belong to the church. The church itself performs some of the most swift and sizeable humanitarian operations in the country. In fact, LDS aide groups were some of the first to arrive in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Currently, the LDS church is financing a project that will absolutely revitalize our flagging downtown area. They are sinking billions in to improving the city for all of its residents. The plans are lovely and have taken in to account sustainability and environmental concerns.
For such reasons, I have come to a develop a hard-won respect for the church over my years living in Salt Lake.
I've come to expect the church to meddle in Utah laws - you should do a search on our liquor laws if you want in idea of what I mean. I have accepted that to live in this state is to be among a huge Mormon demographic. I've come to the conclusion that, despite the differences in opinion, the LDS presence is more of a positive aspect of our city than a negative one. I figure, if the worst thing I have to complain about in my town is some over-zealous religious types then I've got it pretty good. It's not like they do drive-bys and throw Books of Mormon through peoples' windows!
However, I was totally shocked to learn of the huge amount of monetary support given to Prop 8 by the church. Wait a minute. Now they're trying to influence California's laws to support their moral leanings? I thought.
This seemed to really be pushing it. I've always been able to see past the bizarre breaches in personal freedoms because I have agreed with LDS lawmakers on some more important issues. Like keeping Italian nuclear waste from being stored in our deserts. But, they just went too far on this one.
The following statements reflect what is publicly known regarding the church's support of Prop 8:
The church reports spending just under $200,000 on an aggressive pro-Prop 8 campaign.
Church volunteers spent thousands of man-hours working on the effort. Church President Thomas S. Monson officially called on all members to donate of their "time and resources" if they could.
Members allegedly donated almost $3million to the cause.
Television commercials, leaflets, door-to-door visits, radio programs, and other resources were exhausted in spreading the message.
When the church faced heavy criticism for it's vehement meddling, it reminded the public that it's perfectly normal for a church to weigh in on social and political issues relevant to its followers. Fair enough. Then they said, "While the Church does not endorse candidates or platforms, it does reserve the right to speak out on important issues."
That's where I believe that they are blatantly misspeaking, to put it nicely. How is their enormous anti gay-marriage campaign not endorsing a certain platform?! They are very much supporting a platform and have invested quite a lot in convincing California voters of its righteousness.
A smidge of research reveals that this is nothing new. The LDS church has actively been involved in national politics as far back as news has been recorded. In fact, they had a large hand in pushing back the enacting of women's rights laws, fearing that such legislation could discourage women from exhibiting so-called feminine behaviors. Seriously.
This is also the group that, in the 1970's, suddenly received a revelation from God that it was okay to allow black men to hold the priesthood on the heels of threats of a lawsuit from the ACLU. What timing.
This brings us to the issue of taxes. As a religion, the LDS church currently holds a tax-exempt status in the eyes of the IRS. As part of the stipulative conditions for maintaining said status, a religious entity must adhere to the following:
“In general, no organization, including a church, may qualify for IRC section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying),” and “The organization may not intervene in political campaigns.”
Many times, the church has pushed the boundaries of this legal jargon - because, really, who can pinpoint what constitutes a "substantial part" of the church's overall doings? Of course, legalese is usually configured ambiguously anyway (especially when it comes to tax code) so that entities who employ expensive lawyers can have it interpreted to suit their agenda.
For a group who claims to have founded Utah to escape persecution, they sure know how to dish it out. Not only has the fiasco over Prop 8 made the church look hypocritical on many levels, it has pitted its own members against each other. Gay mormons (yes, those do exist - though most have been officially excommunicated) have banded together, pleading with the theocracy to at least engage in a dialogue regarding the issue. So far, the church presidency has been unresponsive to its misfit sons and daughters.
LDS church members who have gay children have also taken up arms against the church, imploring the higher-ups to stop their hateful campaign. Some argue that the church's own Doctrine & Covenants dictate tolerance and acceptance of others who are different.
The church continues to issue the same refrain: that marriage between heterosexuals is somehow threatened by allowing homosexuals to legalize their unions. That line of logic holds no water when tested and, frankly, they need to come up with something better. That "argument" only serves to further support the assertion that they are far outside the boundaries of what a tax-exempt religious entity should be doing with their time and resources.