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I know-- "Not another Prop. 8 diary!" you might scream, but that's not the point of this particular diary, except for all who hope where to go forward, to either repeal the proposition by voter initiative in California (or other similar laws/amendments in other states) or simply focus on arguing either State or the nation's Constitutional law-- I really believe it is good to understand how we got here.

For those who saw the movie, Milk, the past week and a half, for those who only knew that Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected member in the United States or that two great liberal leaders, he and George Mascone, were shot in one of the most tragic days in California's history by a petty man (who later with his defense lawyer further outraged the outrage by saying it was the "sugar that made him do it" and got a light sentence for assassination--even though it was due to pettiness that more mimicks politics in a regular workplace office than a city council), people have either learned or relearned Harvey Milk was actually the Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani's deplored "community leader" who actually advocated for Gay civil rights, and did the Deniac Grade A option and chose to run for office, and kept trying to do so, until he got elected.  He also was disturbed by an anti-gay civil rights movement (seen through religious right, once Sunkist and beauty contest winner Anita Bryant) and when a proposition called Proposition 6 appeared on the ballot in 1978, how Harvey Milk and other gay activists worked hard to defeat an ugly proposition that 1. Would've said that Gay and Lesbian teachers are not allowed to teach in schools and 2.  Anyone who believed and advocated who should who also were teachers were also not allowed to teach in schools and thus would be terminated.  Until this defeat, initiatives were passed to repeal gay rights ordinances in several different cities, and this election was a breakthrough that through serious, progressive activism (including the encouragement for GLB people to come out) helped turn around a disturbing trend and after a whole election year where it appeared it would pass with 60% or more (as it did in the cities), voters in the state of California defeated this fascist proposition by over a million votes and tide appeared to have turned the inevitability of legalizing discrimination and denying civil rights to LGBT people.

Prop. 8 did not come in a vacuum, and in fact this year's four notorious anti-gay propositions that appeared in four states (three that would either deny or remove marriage rights in Arizona, California, and Florida--while in Arkansas GLBT couples were denied the rights to adopt or be foster parents--as shocking as they were did not come out of nowhere and are just a more recent stunningly example of a movement that has lasted over 30 years to repeal or say that would deliberately discriminate gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people (obviously sodomy laws beforehand also did so, but the trend was the voter initiative.  The voter initiative that especially geared to say that people that had this distinction and this identity could not have civil rights due to this identity.

The number of state and city ordinances that went before voters is tremendous.  At one time, in the City of San Francisco, even there, voters of that city repealed domestic partnership benefits to gay and lesbian couples (in 1989).  Though in 1990, another voter initiative repealed that repeal and brought it back and somewhat redefined terms.

Anti-gay rights on the ballot became prominent again in the 1990's--many different state organizations made the argument that people with gay,lesbian or bisexual identity had "no special rights" and should not have recourse like people of race, gender, religious beliefs, and sometimes political beliefs in the states.  They talked about how such people would demand quotas (using the anti-quota rhetoric at the time which was correlated somewhat to the emerging anti-affirmative action (in general) movement).  In states like Oregon and Idaho efforts were made to take other steps such as calling homosexuality "perverse" and equivalent to pedophilia as an Amendment to Oregon's Constitution (Measure 9 in  Oregon in 1992) or also denying the right to teach homosexuality in a positive light in schools and making sure any materials that discuss homosexuality cannot be in any way reachable to children in any libraries in Idaho--to Idaho's Constitution (Measure One in Idaho in 1994).  These two measures actually failed (yes, in Idaho, discussion about this phenomenon below).

In 1992, in the state of Colorado (where all their initiatives in Colorado at least back then were Constitutional Amendments, in general, go figure), there was Amendment 2, where unlike the wonderful extras of hate to the two notorious measures above, this one simply said that people who consider themselves Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual would have "no protected status" which of course in their laundry list included quotas.  This one passed 53% to 47% and led to a continual Court appeals challenge that eventually went to the United States Supreme Court in 1996, the case called Romer vs. Evans, which at least stated that such laws that did that violated the equal protection clause.

Since then, anti-gay measures continue to crop up, but the main attack now is marriage, first and foremost.  Fear that Romer vs. Evans may lead to marriage rights led to the passage by the United States Congress of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) and since then many states have continued to pass such initiatives.  The attacks especially seem to be not on queer people as individuals, but queer people as couples--and the 2008 initiatives show yet stinging disapproval by voter ballot that denies couples marriage or even partnership rights, and in the case of the Arkansas initiative, denies couples to adopt or even have foster kids.

The commercials and attacks stated this year really haven't changed.  Just as Proposition 6 in California in 1978 (also known as the Briggs Initiative but also known as the "Save our Children" act), the often fear the anti-gay campaigns put forward is finally the mere existence of GLBT people, later GLBT couples, especially shown in any positive light is harmful to children.  While some haters like those who drafted the Oregon initiative try to hint that such people are the same as those that practice pedophilia, the general fear is that somehow children who believe GLBT people are seen as positive or normal or even have rights of any kind, would therefore, of course, become GLB or T, themselves.

So given this history what can we learn from the history before Proposition 8?  Since the election, I contemplated sharing, researching, and sometimes reading any important books or articles that reveal what should be known by people who want to somehow bring equality to marriage rights across the country.  However, since marriage rights are more infamously known by anti-gay rights, and by voter initiative, it is important to understand now that there's a rich history, how well did campaigns fare that fought for GLBT rights in these voter initiative fights, what is especially prevalent about those who draft and put forward anti-gay ballot campaigns, and what of this history could possibly be learned as to why the No on Proposition 8 campaign failed, and what could be learned when such fights against such initiatives have won.  By association, research also needs to be done on any pro-GLBT civil rights, domestic partnerships/civil union voter initiatives as well, and also trying to figure out the dilemma to explain to people what a "civil marriage" exactly is.  This dilemma is especially troublesome (and expensive) because for some odd reason in many states, it only takes a 50% plus one vote by a population that may or may not be really informed to change state Constitutions on key civil rights issues that could violate the equal protections clause, and there were in fact examples of states also having done this to people of race, gender, religious identities, etc. in the past.

Right now I have read a book titled Anti-Gay Rights: Assessing Voter Initiatives edited by Stephanie L. Witt and Suzanne McCorkle (published in 1997).  It is a scholarly book that provides careful research and insight.  It includes an appendix that includes wording of the anti-gay initiatives discussed in the book, a chronology of anti-gay initiatives in the United States, and some polling information.  I will eventually write a formal book review but right now the book mainly covers three anti-gay initiatives (two in states, one in one city), provides a history of the religious right movements that brought on anti-gay positions in general, provides an analysis of Romer vs. Evans, and also explores the phenomenon of the anti-gay initiatives that were brought forward in the 1990's.  The book especially explores in detail the Measure One Campaign in Idaho in 1994 (four chapters are devoted to this subject).

Today, what I especially want to emphasize is that the Measure One campaign is certainly one that should be looked at and studied.  1994 was a year that nationwide favored the Republicans--the Republicans captured the House for the first time in forty years, strongly recaptured the Senate and also won many governorships and captured state legislatures all around the country.  In the state of Idaho, Helen Chenowith, a definite right-wing religious conservative was elected to a Congressional seat resoundedly.  And yet, in that same year, an anti-gay initiative was defeated by a little over three thousand votes in Idaho.  Based on my analysis of the four chapters the initiative was defeated by several different reasons, one that might shock you.

  1.  The No on One campaign had a definite ground campaign, and it was led by a gay civil rights leader, Brian Bergquist  (who lived in Idaho)-- and it had a considerable ground game.
  1.  Unlike the Colorado amendment, the initiative asked for extras that brought on further constitutional issues (like free speech) such as outlawing talking about homosexuality in a positive light in public schools and limiting access to materials on homosexuality to children in public libraries.
  1.  The No on One campaign spent over $700,000 dollars (while the Yes on One campaign spent $200,000 dollars).
  1.  Representatives spoke against Proposition One, including Mike Crapo (now Senator in Idaho), and civil rights leaders like Corretta Scott King.
  1.  There was concern due to the somewhat successful boycott that occurred against Colorado since its passage of Amendment 2, which did show emphasis of some economical hurt against the State and businesses.

finally, number 6:

  1.  Towards the end of the campaign, the No on One campaign aired a specific commercial that revealed that anti-gay propaganda films that the Yes on One campaign was showing had also produced anti-Mormon propaganda films as well.

Why is number 6 significant?  There is a significant, Mormon/LSD population in the state of Idaho.  Furthermore, in Idaho's early state history, it was written in the Idaho State Constitution (yes, the Constitution) that Mormons did not have the right to vote (this was later repealed, of course).  With a vote difference of a little over 3,000 votes the campaign managed to convince enough Mormons to vote No on Measure One.  How's that for irony?!

By contrast, the No on Proposition 8 is criticized among many things for not appealing to groups or churches, etc. they assumed they could not appeal to.  Mormons would probably likely be one of them, but considering Idaho's reputation and limited populations of progressives or diversity, etc. in such a state, Brian Bergquist wisely saw the need to appeal to the Mormons, if there was going to be a possibility of defeating such an initiative.  I'd recommend people to study this one more carefully (I'd also recommend they study Colorado and Amendment 2, which unfortunately is not covered well in this book (except with respect to Romer vs. Evans) much to my frustration.  I WANTED a detailed study of the Yes on 2 and No on 2 campaigns rather than going by my memory being a closeted gay person in Colorado at that time noticing commercials and reading news stories back then.  I can discuss this in another diary entry, but not today).

But wait, there's more irony to be learned from today.  In addition to reading the book, I also decided to begin putting together a bibliography (I'm a librarian and I figured the best I could do is give the blogosphere and key progressive groups a means of where they could go for research).  I started searching for article titles and read abstracts yesterday, and started compiling it, until I came across a rather fascinating article.  Its title:  "'The Era is a Moral issue': The Mormon Church, LDS Women, and the Defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment" written by Neil J. Young (published in Volume 59 (2007) of the academic Journal, American Quarterly, pages 623-644).

In this article, Young argues that while much attention has been made on Christian and Conservative women organizations in the literature that fought and helped keep the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from being ratified, little attention has been made to the Mormon Church, which the author argues in his essay was in fact, the first truly real organized presence that helped halt what would've been a rapid ratification to the ERA.  The Equal Rights Amendment would have defined gender equality into the United States Constitution.  After a rapid thirty-three states approval and in fact polls that demonstrated at first there was support among Mormons and even a couple of church newsletters appearing to speak of it favorably, discussions among leaders from the church's organizational structure of the time finally spoke disfavorably of it, believing the amendment threatened its religious values (and its values over the world) of women's role in society, which included subservience to their husbands.  Young wrote "And unlike the equal rights amendment's bid to apply laws regadless of sex, Mormon theology places sexual difference and male-female interdependency at the heart of its conception of exaltation.  Told that the ERA would eradicate the basic distinctions between the sexes and loosen men and women from gender-based obligations of marriage, Mormon men and women opposed the ERA because it contradicted their most fundamental beliefs about the nature of both life and the afterlife."

But more than that, once they defined it, they then encouraged their followers to campaign against it, and Mormon Women filled the Constitutional delegations in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada, and though not having as significant population in Virgina, thousands of Mormon women lived close to Washington, D.C. and also made themselves presence.  Suddenly, the inevitability of the ERA was halted in 1974, and eight years later, the proposed Amendment met its expiration and was not heard anymore.

While we remember more about Phyllis Schlafly (you know gay man Joh Schlafly's mother) and her Eagle Forum movement and their fears that such an Amendment would lead to unisex bathrooms, or in the latter days the Reaganites argues the amendment was not necessary since "man" is presumed in the gender neutral sense like all "authoritative documents" (implied at this time), it looks like Mormons who at first appeared to be for the ERA, later stood against it, and some became activists, because a substantial number of Mormons (notice I do not say ALL, nor do I want to signal out Mormons in this case) believed in following their religious doctrine in the guise of it being Authoritarian.  These are people (likely like many who voted against GLBT rights) who not only vote but some even become active because it's their duty, based on what their Church leaders say.  The essay especially points out how quickly and with determination Mormon/LSD women fought on the cause of what they believed or were told was what their religion insisted was their gender roles and that the ERA was therefore "blasphemous" to their doctrine.

Looking at this in hindsight, maybe the No on 8 campaign may have benefited by maybe reading this important scholarly article (it wasn't even old, published last year?)  And perhaps it should be read now, because after all, they became a prominent force and helped embolden other movements to deny gender equality in the United States Constitution.  And based on their beliefs and concerns of threats to their beliefs, they can do the same to try to keep marriage equality from happening as well.  In fact, they helped repeal same sex marriage rights in the state of California, where they were compelled to either phone bank from their home state (such as Utah), or have the Church or themselves put in considerable donations.

Now given that, remember, it was Mormons who also helped defeat an anti-gay initiative (Measure One) in Idaho in a very Republican year in 1994.

What can be learned?  It appears that when Mormons recognize hate and discrimination for what it is and can even see what is happening in a personal light, a number can vote and help defeat discrimination from appearing into the Constitution.  If all they hear is conservative leaders of their church telling them not only to vote for discrimination, but even actively campaign for it, then discrimination wins.  The same can be said for people who take what certain religions or denominations say seriously.  The goal is to try to redirect them back to the awareness that what is actually happening in this world, where there is a separation between church and state, and there's freedom of religion, and one's religious beliefs should not discriminate anyone, and furthermore the history of discrimination against others (such as interracial marriage, housing rights on race--an initiative in California that once overturned a Civil rights legislation based on housing, later found Unconstitutional), etc.) then maybe there's a chance.

But it takes money and an effective ground game to do so.  Writings include that the Proposition 8 campaign was not prepared for the actions, even when it became clear what the Mormon Church, as an institution, was doing.  And yet this happened before regarding the ERA.

I apologize for the VERY LONG diary, but I'm trying hard to point out that before we continue or simply study just the Proposition 8 campaign by itself, we greatly miss something.  If this likely little read diary is read by at least one person tonight, I'll be fine with that.

Originally posted to norm on Fri Dec 05, 2008 at 07:31 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  bigots are (7+ / 0-)

    bigots. plain and simple.

  •  Thanks for the work (14+ / 0-)

    you put into this.

    The ERA connection does need emphasis.

    God and ego are not equivalent expressions of reality.

    by Othniel on Fri Dec 05, 2008 at 07:57:51 PM PST

  •  Thanks, Norm. (13+ / 0-)

    This bears taking into account for future battles.

    That said, I still favor boycotting Yes on 8 supporters.

    Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.

    "Troll-be-gone...apply directly to the asshole. Troll-be-gone...apply directly to the asshole."

    by homogenius on Fri Dec 05, 2008 at 08:03:41 PM PST

    •  As Milk Shows (12+ / 0-)

      the call for the boycott of Sunkist (for sponsoring Anita Bryant) was effective.  And Harvey Milk, himself, is stated to be an advocate for such boycotts.  Also, one of the reasons Measure One failed in Idaho was a fear of a boycott (such as say, on potatoes) after a somewhat successful boycott on Colorado (such as reservations on its Convention Center), its companies, and those who advocated for the passage of Amendment 2.

      I'm definitely for the boycott of such entities as Ebay and Cinemark, as well, when their CEO's donate to Yes on 8.

      •  Saw "MILK" (9+ / 0-)

        It was so good.

        My husband planned the whole day.

        Xgiving holiday and my 20 something daughter ( we call her Mango) is home for break.

        His plan:

        He is at work in the city on day after xgiving (yes, I know it's a holiday)

        Mango and I  take BART to meet him at a French Restaurant on Belden Lane (Mango is a Francophile and planning to spend a summer working there, she is fluent in Francais) and then we walk to the Embarcadero to see "MILK."

        It is an intense and beautifully done film.  

        A must see for everyone, including Mormons.

        As if.

      •  I ran across a message from Stuart Milk today: (9+ / 0-)

        speaking of boycotts

        I fully support the HRC SF Gala boycott. We must speak loud and clear that we will not back track from anything less then total inclusion of our entire wonderful LBTGQ community.
        As my uncle taught me from any early age, "each and every individual member of our diverse community represents the medicine that the world needs". We as Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals are so much less and are incomplete without our trans brothers and sisters

        Almost 30 years after my uncle was violently removed from this world by a hateful element of fear based pragmatism we most stand together and say we will and can have everyone protected from discrimination. Harvey has said, "we must not create a shopping list of exceptions" and that includes any such exceptions no matter how loud those fear based pragmatic voices rise, our voice of inclusion will and must rise higher!

  •  Great work norm.... (12+ / 0-)

    I'm trying to work up the emotional energy to see the movie. I was working in SF near City Hall during the assassination time period. Probably not as sensitive to the GLBT issues then but totally appalled at the verdict for White.

    Also growing up as Mormon during the ERA time period it is interesting to see someone else's take on it. I knew then that the Mormon's and Coor's family were the biggest inter-mountain $$ going towards the defeat of the ERA.  I look forward to discussing this with you tomorrow!

    Not another dime to an out of state race until CA has equality for all. Period.

    by SallyCat on Fri Dec 05, 2008 at 08:25:41 PM PST

  •  FINALLY. (7+ / 0-)

    A diary on Mormons and Prop 8 that takes a full array of facts into consideration.  I am so sick of the knee-jerk reactions and broad brushes I've seen on this site around this issue.  (There've been some significant exceptions, but the "religion is stupid, period" mentality is pretty well represented around here, and doesn't exactly lend itself to critical thinking about the issues.)

    •  Not only the facts (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      norm, dirkster42, john07801, mofembot

      but also raises the important question of "How could a Mormon find common cause with a Marriage Equality activist?" And the answer, of course, is "When they both are working toward something they want."
        I want marriage equality sooner rather than later (later being the day when enough homophobic people die off that the opposition goes away). To get it sooner (in my lifetime!) I have to be able to talk persuasively about areas where we have common ground, to people like my Mormon and evangelical Christian friends, who are afraid their core values are eroding out from under their feet.

  •  Wow, thanks for all this analysis (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    norm, tnichlsn, Predictor

    see you tomorrow.  

    I also was recently reminded that the Briggs Initiative which sought to keep gays from being teachers lost in California after Governor Reagan spoke out against it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/...

    "Speak out, judge fairly, and defend the rights of oppressed and needy people." Proverbs 31:9

    by zdefender on Fri Dec 05, 2008 at 10:02:19 PM PST

  •  ERA Map (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    norm, snakelass, mofembot

    I found the following Wikidpedia MAP of states that approved of ERA. Curiously, Idaho is in the list of states that first approved and later rescinded ERA. If memory serves, the LDS church bussed people from Utah to surrounding states to help defeat it.

  •  I can definitely attest to the fact (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    norm, snakelass, AmericanRiverCanyon

    that many Calif. Mormons didn't care about gay marriage (in a negative way) until their leaders told them to care about it. This was an almost identical repeat of what happened re: Mormons and the ERA, by the way: many Mormons were astounded when the church came out against it. Far too many were still obedient to their leaders rather than to their own consciences and common sense, of course, but the point is, a lot of Mormons didn't "naturally" find themselves pushing for Yes on 8 (and similar measures elsewhere).

    The best way to get Mormons to start thinking for themselves is to touch their hearts through real people's stories. Vehement protests and disruptions only lend fuel to the Mormons' persecution complex, whereas seeing that they are causing pain to their gay brothers and sisters whacks at least some of them in their consciences. Many Mormons, even those who voted yes on h8, felt very conflicted, and it's important to build, build, build on those conflicted feelings.

    Book excerpts: nonlynnear; other writings: mofembot.

    by mofembot on Sun Dec 07, 2008 at 01:18:30 AM PST

    •  I couldn't agree more (4+ / 0-)

      The native language of Mormons is guilt. It was because of guilt that many Mormons who were individually indifferent towards gay marriage ended up campaigning for it. Viewing these people as simple bigots who can never be reached shows a poverty of vision and poor understanding of the power of the guilt-arts.

    •  Likewise as I Commented Elsewhere About (3+ / 0-)

      the article in other threads, but not above, Mormon women were originally FOR the ERA (by polls) and when efforts were made to repeal laws as what was written in Idaho's Constitution (as mentioned above), many Mormons in fact were suffragists and were a big impact to the first states that gave women the right to vote in the Western/Mountain states.

      Something happened with the leadership and the respect to Authoritarian structures where believers feel they must follow what their leaders say--only then Mormon women, whose grandmothers were suffragists in a way, did their duty to repeal the threat to gender roles by defeating the ERA.

      It appears that's also what happened here, and as SallyCat has pointed out, it is not just their "activism," but their dollars.  Just like back then, the funding drive to defeat the ERA was very much tied to the Mormon Church than it is regarding Prop. 8.  So once again, this Yes on 8 phenomenon is not out of a vacuum. There is a clear history that has happened that the No on 8 people should have paid attention to, and taken seriously.

  •  Thanks, Norm, and... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    norm, snakelass

    Great analysis, Norm.
    This past week, Marc Shaiman (composer of "Hairspray") worked on "Prop 8 The Musical" for the website "Funny or Die"
    [
    Behind Prop 8: The Musical ]

    was quoted as saying that he wished that he had done this BEFORE Prop 8 passed. He also said:

     

    "We stupidly allowed ourselves to be lulled into a sense of ‘everything’s fantastic now,’ " Mr. Shaiman said in a recent telephone interview. " ‘Everything’s changing, and this couldn’t possibly be voted into law.’ "

    I am gay. My friends -- both gay and straight -- were not "lulled" at all. We were scared s***less that Prop 8 might pass and we raised money, worked the phones, talked to anyone who would listen to us about why this was so important. It reminded me of back in 1978 when Prop 6 or the Briggs Initiative was before California voters. I was 21 at the time and in college and remember that even as a senior at so-called or considered conservative USC where I was on the staff of the USC Daily Trojan, our editorial board unanimously voted to urge the campus community to vote against Prop 6.
     It would seem as though 2008 would be a more enlighened time than 1978. However, in Harvey Milk, the movement had a very strong public figure who barnstormed the state and also debated John Briggs. If you've ever seen the Oscar-winning documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" you can see how brilliant Harvey Milk was in showing how ludicrous Briggs' arguments were. Harvey was aided in the debate by the brilliant Sally Miller Gearhart. Briggs said how gay men should not be allowed to teach in the schools in order to reduce the risk of pedophilia. Harvey and Sally pointed out that it was heterosexual men who were responsibile for 99% of pedophilia in schools and Briggs' comeback was something to the effect of preventing gay men and lesbians would at least reduce it by some. Harvey and Sally were incredulous as I am sure many watching the debate were.
     And Jerry Brown, then governor of California, got then-President Jimmy Carter to urge citizens to vote No on 6.
     I worry now that Prop. 8 has passed that the Mormon Church and the Religious Right will feel emboldened to try something like this again. They certainly used children in the ads for Prop. 8 to spread disinformation.
     I also remember reading that the Yes on 8 ad that featured S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom at a rally after the Supreme Court decision where, preaching to the choir, he made the statement, "There's No Stopping This Now," and I read that that clip - played over and over again -- is when public opinion began to turn.
     Going back to where I started this post, Mr. Shaiman's remark about how he felt "lulled," made me think that despite my friends and I working hard to defeat 8, a lot of gays and lesbians did feel complacent that something like this could never pass. And now they wish they'd done more.

  •  Mormons and Mormon Church (LDS) Activism (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    norm, AmericanRiverCanyon, ludlow

    Dear Norm,

    I am a new poster – a Mormon from the Midwest, so I must wait 24 hours to respond. Chances are you may not even notice this, but I want to congratulate you for zeroing in on the observation that, with notable exceptions, Mormons vote according to how our leaders tell us to vote.  If the gay rights initiative is to succeed among the majority of Mormon voters, the insights you expressed in this article are important ones.  

    As you say, Mormons advocated against the ERA and their own self-interests in large numbers, primarily out of ignorance and loyalty to church leaders.  But we can be convinced to vote otherwise, and a fair number of us are LBGT allies.  In fact, several of my anti-Prop 8 Mormon friends were responsible for tracking and generating Internet publicity for the behind-the-scenes funding from individual Latter-day Saints.

    I also second your comments about Mormons and authority.  Obedience to authoritarian leaders, who presumably speak for God, is a litmus test of loyalty in the Mormon faith.  Church members who are publicly disloyal are subject to immediate sanctions – disfellowshipment (a kind of shunning) and excommunication.  For believing Mormons, this has long-term consequences for extended families.  And because the religion is so centralized, retribution from church leaders is swift and easy. Local wards/branches (similar to dioceses) are 3 degrees of separation, if even that, from Salt Lake City headquarters.  A decree from the First Presidency would take, at most, a week or two to reach every congregation in North America.

    Politically speaking, Mormons are not a monolithic group. However, there has never been any wiggle room for a (vocal) pro-gay, pro-women’s rights, pro-minority rights contingency in Latter-day congregations.  The public does not realize that Mormons cannot choose which congregation we want to attend; we are assigned according to geographical boundaries.  Local lay leaders are changed every few years.  Unlike most other churches and synagogues in the U.S., local congregations are not free to develop their collective personalities or to attract a critical mass of like-minded progressives.  

    Mormon leaders would like to avoid negative publicity at all costs, and so continuing to put public pressure on the church is a good idea.  That pressure needs to be geared not toward local leaders, who are laymen with little power, but toward the white male leaders in Salt Lake City who are calling all of the shots.  Speaking of shots, boycotting or protesting Brigham Young University basketball and football events was effective in the 1970s in encouraging a revelation on the priesthood that ended discriminatory policies against African-American men.

    Another caveat for gay activists in dealing with any conservative religious body:  focus on relationships, not on sexual freedom.  Emphasize the importance of faithful committed relationships for everyone, and how vital it is that children be raised in loving homes. Language and images that call attention to sexuality – such as Mormon missionaries rummaging through a lesbian couples’ underwear drawer – only highlight what religious people think of as "deviant sexual practices."   Stay away from sexual language and from overt demonstrations of sexuality.   Sexuality –- whether straight or gay -- is a highly-charged topic for religious folks, and going into the bedroom will get you nowhere.

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