There's an excellent piece of news analysis in yesterday's New York Times. ( I know, I had seven hours worth of classes to teach) Jeremy Peters, in an article that's still on the front page of the website, investigates the Mormon response to ENDA and finds a wonderfully simple explanation for the votes. It's so obvious I'm wondering why it didn't occur to any of us.
A lot more below the great orange throw pillow.
As thinkers, we deal in metaphor a lot when we attempt to explain things. We're ALL aware of what happens when we try to relate the struggle for LGBT rights to the African-American Civil Rights movement (it works for LGBT people of color, but not that well for the rest of us). We could, of course, look around for other oppressed white people, but in this country antisemitism, especially after World War II, mostly vanished. It never occurs to us that there's another group of White Americans who have oppression in their history, but here we are - The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. In case you don't know much about their history, here's the brief summary I use in my classes.
The Mormons, like the Puritans, were trying to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. They faced hostility initially because Joseph Smith said he conversed with angels and received direct revelations from God (that would be the Book of Mormon), which suggested to local officials in upstate New York he should be indicted for blasphemy. That's why he and his followers moved to Kirtland, Ohio (just east of Cleveland). Here, they first experimented with a community planned and run by the Church: trustees controlled the members’ property, put members to work building a temple and other structures,
In 1839, because Smith had been sentenced to be shot for treason, he and his brother Hiram escaped, across the Mississippi to Nauvoo, Illinois, where they were shot to death anyway. Brigham Young then took control of the community and moved them to Utah, which was then in the most northern part of Mexico. The periodization of American History in schools that operate on the semester system forces me to leave the history at this point (I don't have notes on the statehood issue), but I can explain where the feeling of oppression came from in the latter part of the 19th Century:
1) Individualistic frontiersmen feared the Mormons because they acted as a community and did what their elders told them,This seemed to be a threat to the fundamental social values of the United States.
2) Protestant ministers objected because the Mormons rejected the legitimacy of established churches and insisted that the Book of Mormon was Holy Scripture. These ministers attacked it as a preposterous hoax that played on naïve and superstitious minds. That, um, persists.
3) And of course there's polygamy, which helped absorb single or widowed women into Mormon communities,
Deuteronomy 25:5-6: “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband's brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. “And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.”with or without their consent, and which said ministers and lots of other righteous Protestants thought represented corrupt moral values.
This latest -- let's call it an initiative -- by the Mormons comes in the well-documented wake of their response to the treatment they received when it became clear the Church had been a major financial supporter of Proposition 8:
Their support for including civil rights protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is the latest example of a broader evolution by some of the most visible members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who have come to cautiously embrace gay rights. It is a remarkable turnabout from just five years ago, when the church faced a maelstrom of criticism for backing the initiative in California that took away the right of same-sex couples to marry.Specifically,
Unlike the issue of marriage, which the church views as an inviolable doctrine, nondiscrimination law has become one subject that Mormons of all political stripes can safely seem to support. Indeed, the church publicly backed a provision in Salt Lake City in 2009 that extended many of the same workplace protections as the Senate bill. It did not, however, take a public position during the Senate debate.Well, all right. So now we get to see how it plays out in politics.
The church has also embarked on a public relations campaign to soften the perception that it is homophobic. It has even created a website called MormonsandGays.org, which points out that while acting on same-sex attraction is a sin, “With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”
It's not that we have thought all Mormons oppose LGBT civil rights. Harry Reid, for example, made ENDA a legislative priority for this session. It's the Republican Mormons we worried about. It turns out that Reid had a secret weapon. Remember Gordon Smith (R-OR)? Our friend Jeff Merkley certainly did.
Building support among the Senate’s Mormons had always been part of the strategy for the bill’s sponsor, Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, who reached out to the man he beat in 2008 — Mr. Smith — for help. “He can speak from a perspective that I might not be able to replicate,” Mr. Merkley said of his former rival. When Mr. Smith asked how he might help, Mr. Merkley suggested he reach out to Mr. Hatch.Smith indeed spoke to Hatch, and this is how Hatch responded when asked to discuss his yes vote:
“It’s just the right thing,” Mr. Hatch said as he walked into the Senate chamber to vote. “Religion should be respected, and so should people.”Tremendously reasonable, no? I think this explains Orrin Hatch, too, especially his friendship with Teddy Kennedy.
And Harry Reid summed it up very well:
Mormons, who have seen their own share of bias, should be especially sensitive, he said. “I would think that members of the church should understand that one of the things that should be paramount in their minds,” he said, “is how they’ve been treated.”The Oppression Olympics? No. Let's remember, Reid says, that we've been an oppressed group, and let's stop oppressing other people for what they believe or who they are.
I find this all very refreshing. What it says to me is that bigotry is bigotry, and that people can absolutely be cured of it if they think. They just have to understand that we have more in common as people than what separates us. I know that's pollyanna-ish of me given the existence of the Tea Party Republicans, but some people are just past understanding anything that conflicts with what they think they know.
Note: This is NOT a forum for Mormon-bashing and I'm going to treat any instances of that as diary hijacking.