Why we’re mad at the Mormon church

Leading up to the Nov. 4 vote, the Courage Campaign Issues Committee bought time on cable television to air an advertisement against Proposition 8 entitled “Home Invasion.” The hard-hitting ad depicted two arrogant Mormon missionaries invading the home of a lesbian couple, stripping them of their wedding rings and shredding their marriage license.

The dramatic visuals were designed to call attention to two issues: Proposition 8 sought to take away the legal rights of same-sex couples all across California, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had contributed an enormous amount of money and manpower to the campaign.

Since the election, this ad has drawn the ire of religious groups and pundits across the country, including Times Op-Ed columnist Jonah Goldberg (“An ugly attack on Mormons,” Dec. 3). But amid the uproar over the ad, there was very little discussion about something very important: the truth.

And the truth is very simple: Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints campaigned vigorously to strip rights from gays and lesbians. They contributed a staggering amount of money to pass Proposition 8 -- a figure estimated to be at least $20 million (and potentially much higher) to fund a fear-mongering, truth-distorting campaign whose only objective was to outlaw same-sex couples from getting a marriage license. Proposition 8 now threatens to invalidate the same-sex marriages already in existence, pending future rulings from the California Supreme Court. There is an old saying: Truth can’t be libel.

Goldberg claims that the ad focused on the Mormons because they were an easier target, one of many faiths that supported Proposition 8. In reality, the Yes on 8 campaign might as well have been a wholly owned subsidiary of the LDS Church. Many estimate that members of the LDS Church gave more than half of the total amount raised by the Yes on 8 campaign. In addition, the LDS Church ran large call centers supporting Proposition 8 and encouraged its members to travel to California to support the campaign. These efforts were only scaled back after California voters started to become more aware of the massive role that the LDS Church was playing in the campaign. They may also be putting the LDS Church into some legal peril as well: It is being investigated by the California Fair Political Practices Commission for failure to report expenses related to these, as well as other, campaign activities on behalf of Proposition 8.

Unfortunately, this failure to take public responsibility for leading the fight against same-sex marriage, as well as the masking of its efforts behind the shroud of an interfaith coalition, is nothing new for the LDS Church.

An LDS Church internal memo from 1997 regarding strategies to oppose same-sex marriage explains that although the LDS Church may be able to put together the funding for a citizen referendum in California, “The public image of the Catholic Church [is] higher than our Church. In other words, if we get into this, they are ones with which to join.” This is exactly the strategy the LDS Church used to mask its involvement in Proposition 8 until the final weeks before the election.

The LDS Church or any other organization has every right to use its power to influence elections to any extent that is legal. What it doesn’t have a right to do is claim persecution when other organizations do nothing but expose the church’s forays into the political arena before a discerning public.

While the backlash against the LDS Church has made some of its members uncomfortable, they have nobody to blame but their leadership who dragged them into this mess. In an effort to repair its public image, the church has said that it wants to begin a “healing process” and has claimed support for equal rights for gays and lesbians, except for using the word “marriage” to describe unions between same-sex partners. The church now has an opportunity to demonstrate that support: Utah state Sen. Scott McCoy has introduced legislation that would provide gays and lesbians in his state with all rights that straight people enjoy except marriage.

If the LDS Church were to support McCoy, it would show that it really does believe in love, compassion and equal rights. If it does not, the church’s supposedly conciliatory stance would simply be one more obfuscation in support of truly bigoted intentions.

Rick Jacobs is the founder and chairman of the Courage Campaign, a progressive online organizing network.