More than a thousand gay-rights activists gathered Thursday afternoon outside the Mormon temple in Westwood to protest the role Mormons played in passing Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California.
It was the latest in an escalating campaign directed against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its role in marshaling millions of dollars in contributions from its members for the successful campaign to take away same-sex marriage rights.
Members of the Mormon church, who were strongly urged by church leaders to contribute to the Proposition 8 campaign, had an undeniable role in the measure’s victory. Opponents of Proposition 8 have accused the church of discriminating against homosexuals, but the backlash against the denomination has also sparked accusations of discrimination.
During the campaign, a website established by Proposition 8 opponents used campaign finance data and other public records to track Mormon political contributions to the Yes-on-8 campaign. Opponents estimated that members of the church had given more than $20 million, but the amount is difficult to confirm since the state does not track the religious affiliation of donors.
Critics of the website noted that the religious affiliations of other political donors are not generally researched.
A commercial opposing Proposition 8 also drew criticism. In it, two actors portraying Mormon missionaries forced their way into the well-kept home of a married lesbian couple.
“Hi, we’re here from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” one says.
“We’re here to take away your rights,” says his partner.
The missionaries then rip the wedding rings from the women’s fingers and ransack their house until they find the women’s marriage license, which they destroy.
“Hey, we have rights,” one of the women says.
“Not if we can help it,” answers the missionary.
The ad was produced by an independent group not affiliated with the official No-on-8 campaign and was shown on MSNBC and Comedy Central, according to Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, a progressive political group.
Jeff Flint, strategist for Yes on 8, called the ad “despicable” and said it “crossed every line of decency.”
“I am appalled at the level of Mormon-bashing that went on during the Proposition 8 campaign and continues to this day,” he said. “If this activity were directed against any other church, if someone put up a website that targeted Jews or Catholics in a similar fashion for the mere act of participating in a political campaign, it would be widely and rightfully condemned.”
Members and leaders of the Catholic Church and other Christian churches were also heavily involved in the campaign to pass Proposition 8. The Knights of Columbus, which is tied to the Catholic Church, gave $1 million, and several evangelical groups gave millions more. But they have not come under the same kind of attack.
Leaders of the No-on-8 campaign said they did not believe they were engaged in Mormon-bashing. “This is not about religion,” said Jacobs. “This is about a church that put itself in the middle of politics.”
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said she had grown up in the Mormon Church and thought it was “very disappointing what the church has done and the alliances they have made with churches that don’t even like them and have called the church a cult.”
Church officials made few public statements during the campaign. On Thursday, they issued a statement asking for “a spirit of mutual respect and civility.”
“The Church acknowledges that such an emotionally charged issue concerning the most personal and cherished aspects of life -- family and marriage -- stirs fervent and deep feelings,” church spokeswoman Kim Farah wrote in an e-mail. “No one on either side of the question should be vilified, harassed or subject to erroneous information.” She did not elaborate.
Outside the Los Angeles temple Thursday, dozens of protesters screamed “Bigots” and “Shame on You” at half a dozen men in button-down shirts and ties who looked out at the demonstration from behind the temple’s closed gates.
The men did not respond.
Benjamin Wiser, 27, came to the protest dressed as a Mormon missionary, complete with black plastic name tag.
It was not a costume, he said. He was a missionary and a member of the church until age 23, when he left because he was gay.
Wiser said he did not feel the protesters were unfairly targeting the church.
“I don’t think the Mormon church should be involved,” he said.
Some gay-rights activists said they plan to continue to question the church’s involvement.
Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, which organized the rally outside the temple, announced the launch of a new website, invalidateprop8.org, which will raise money to fight for same-sex marriage rights in California.
For every $5 donated, Jean said, a postcard will be sent to the president of the Mormon church condemning “the reprehensible role the Church of Latter-day Saints leadership played in denying all Californians equal rights under the law.”
“It is a travesty that the Mormon Church bought this election and used a campaign of lies and deception to manipulate voters in the great state of California,” she said.
David Loder, 40, a business manager from Corona and a member of the Mormon church, heard about the protest on the radio. He said he was saddened by the anger directed against the church.
Loder said he had not given money to the Yes-on-8 campaign because finances are tight raising five daughters, but he did put a sign in his frontyard. It was vandalized, he said.
“As a member of the LDS church we have known [and still do] the feeling of being ridiculed and mistreated because of our faith,” he said.
Garrison and Lin are Times staff writers.
Times staff writer Tami Abdollah contributed to this article.