Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thoughts On Proposition 8 and the Fallout

I know, I know! I'm sure everybody is sick of talking about it, and quite frankly, so was I. But I've had many thoughts brewing in my head, and I had to step back for a bit before I could write them all down, and now I'm finally in the mood to talk about it again.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, obviously I was an opponent of Proposition 8. That being said, I do feel that as a gay man and a still active Mormon, I can see both sides of the issue and can empathize with both positions somewhat. Although I was disappointed with the passing of Prop. 8, nothing has disappointed me more than the fallout I've seen as a result. For some time I didn't want to talk or write about anything having to do with Prop. 8 because I was just sickened and torn by so much of the behavior I saw on both sides.

First off, I want to say this: as a gay man I would love the right to be legally married to my boyfriend, and I am obviously disappointed by the passing of a gay marriage ban in California. I should be as upset as anyone. But these accusations that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints hates gay people are ridiculous. I will not deny that there may a small fraction of people in my church that probably do hate gays, but I do not believe for one minute that the overall percentage of Mormons are fighting gay marriage because they hate gay people. I will not even deny that motivations may be based in fear or ignorance even, but I do not find them to be based in hate, and I'm tired of gay activists accusing the church of hate. I believe Mormons (and other organizations supporting Proposition 8) are simply standing up for what they believe is right just like gay activists are standing up for what they believe is right. Whether each party agrees with each other or not is not the issue to me; my beef is that we need to disagree with each other in a civil and respectful manner or we will never come to any sort of compromise or understanding.

Now please don't think I am absolving the church and its members and leaders of any wrongdoing, either. While I support an organization or individual's right to defend what it believes, I do not necessarily believe that the church or its leaders handled this matter in the best way. Church leaders are well aware of the power they hold over their members. They know a call to action will bring results. I find it a bit underhanded for church leaders to ask its members to "do all [they] can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of [their] means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman," not because the church doesn't have a right to do that (they do), but because of the way in which they did it. My church claims political neutrality and is able to keep a tax-exempt status because the organization itself doesn't donate money to a political cause, yet it asks its members to donate money (without actually explicitly saying those exact words) to a political cause knowing full well they will, and then it's the members who take the heat.

People keep crying that this is a moral issue, not just a political one. Let's assume it is. Why are so many other things like genocide in Darfur, global warming, a needless war in Iraq, etc. not worth having a public stance on? Why are two people who love each other and just want a committed and legal relationship more threatening. If it's the sanctity and eternal nature of marriage, fine, but is it moral for me or my partner to be denied health benefits or the right to see each other in the hospital or property rights or custody rights or what-have-you? If heterosexuals want to keep marriage, fine, but don't deny me the same legal rights you have just because you don't approve of what many people mistakenly believe is a choice and don't treat our relationship as though it's inferior to yours. People may not agree with or understand homosexuality, but don't try to convince me that our homosexual relationships hold any less love, devotion, and commitment than hetreosexual ones do. I'm not saying all do, but then I could say the exact same thing for heterosexual relationships. I pay taxes, I live a normal life, I love my partner. Where is the justice in being denied basic legal rights associated with marriage?

And I'm sorry, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is not poltically neutral. They can say they are all they want; that doesn't make it true. I'm not just talking about this particular issue, either. The church holds great power, and they often use it to influence legislation (especially here in Utah) while maintaining the appearance of political neutrality. As I said, the church can stand up for whatever it believes is right. I'm not arguing with that. But I get tired of them claiming political neutrality. I just don't buy it.

I actually think this whole thing is going to backfire. I think it has turned into a public relations nightmare, and I still maintain that the gay civil rights movement will go forward. If anything, this has just made it stronger.

I have been equally disappointed in some gay activists. I know of instances of vandalism, protests that were supposed to be peaceful but ended up being filled with hateful language or acts. I don't think the scare tactic of sending white powder to the LA and Salt Lake Temples as well as a Catholic organization was a cool move. Threatening to boycott Utah is ridiculous to me as most of the people being targeted (Sundance Film Festival and the ski industry) would most likely be sympathizers, not opponents. The act of scrutinizing the donor lists and targeting, harrassing, or boycotting specific individuals causes more harm than good, I think. I don't think targeting specific people for "payback" is the best way to positively influence them to see things from your point of view.

One particular case that has really bothered me was that of a man I know, Scott Eckern, who was Artistic Director for the California Music Theatre for 25 years. He personally donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8, and when gay activists found out, gay theatre artists and composers threatened to pull their shows and boycott the theater. Scott, who is a good man, finally decided to resign for the good of the theater. Now, Mormons are threatening to boycott the theater because of what they believe was "forced resignation." Can a man not vote his conscience (even if I don't agree with his position) without fear of retribution? It makes me sick. I've seen the same intolerance from the gay community that they are accusing others of showing them.

On a personal level, I've seen friends of mine refuse to be friends anymore with those who disagreed with them on this matter. I've seen other friends resign their memberships from the LDS Church. All of this is immensely troubling to me. There is so much pettiness and bickering and name-calling and ignorance, it's really saddened me.

Another friend of mine who is leaving the Church (although she's been inactive for years) showed me temple work that had been done on behalf of Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun in an attempt to show me the injustice of allowing Hitler and Braun to marry, but not two gay people in a loving, committed relationhip. I agree that it is sad irony that Hitler and Braun would be given an opportunity to accept eternal marriage in the afterlife while I can't even get a civil ceremony in this one, but the fact is the Church has always discouraged the submitting of names of famous people, the church can't control an overzealous member who might have submitted those names, and there is no guarantee in the slightest that the temple work done in this life would give Adolph Hitler or Eva Braun an eternal marriage. Frankly, I think they'd both pass, and that's between them and God anyway. Temple work doesn't mean a free ticket to heaven. One's acts will certainly have an influence on where one ends up. Luckily that's for God to decide, not me. My point is really this: while I understood the intentions of my friend, all it did was make me feel sad because I just felt like it was stirring up trouble.

Are the leaders of the LDS Church perfect? No. Are its members? No. Are gay activists? No. I just wish we all (ALL) would make more of an effort to try to understand and educate each other rather than disrespect and hurt one another. No one will ever listen to what you have to say if you aren't informed and civil about it. I've heard many hurtful, ignorant, and even hateful remarks from people on both sides, and it breaks my heart. I just want us to understand one another and come to some sort of agreement on how we can live together. Maybe that's naive, but it's what I wish. being stuck in the middle is especially hard.


The Faithful Dissident said...

Wow, somehow I missed this post and didn't see it until now, but it's one of the best I've read. Your unique position in this matter gives us a perspective that most of us simply can't get ourselves, so I really wish that everyone, on both sides of the issue, could read it.

I really wish that the Church would get behind a decent civil partnership law that would at the very least give gay couples the protection they need in regards to things like hospital visits, benefits, etc. I've heard the Church say that they don't oppose civil unions, and yet at the same time I read that the Church wielded its influence to prevent such a law being passed in UT. Do you know anything about this? I don't think we should be able to "have our cake and eat it too." I know that the Church will never get behind gay marriage and I don't really expect/think that it should. But I do think that it can at least not stand in the way of civil unions that may not necessarily give all the same benefits as marriage, but at least some protection for their relationship. I know that this will never be enough for most of the gay community who wants marriage, but I don't think that should be enough of an argument for the Church to not even make an attempt to at least try.

One thing I've come to learn throughout this whole Prop 8 chaos is that "political neutrality" to the Church only applies to political parties, (i.e. Republican vs. Democrat) but not many other things that are political. The day that the First Presidency sent that letter to the wards naming Prop 8 by name, real political was out the door. As I've said before, I think that the Church could have continued to teach about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman and encourage us to defend "traditional marriage," but naming a political proposition by name and then asking for volunteers and donations in church is where my problem lies.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thank you.

I, too, wish the Church would at least get behind other protections for gay people even if they aren't in support of gay marriage.

While the church in Utah doesn't normally speak out on legislation, the majority of Utah legislators are Mormon and vote according to what they believe the Church would want. And for example, in 2004 the LDS Church did not officially come out in favor of Amendment 3, which would ban gay marriage in Utah, but did release the following statement: "The Church accordingly favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship," and, of course, the measure passed by a high majority.

I don't expect the Church to get behind gay marriage, either, but I do tire of its assertion that it is politically neutral when it is abundnatly clear that the Church often flexes its political muscle without managing to be overt about it.

My issues are much the same as yours regarding how the Church handled this issue politically.

Kengo Biddles said...

I'm quite dubious about the Hitler/Braun thing...

But aside that, this whole thing has left me torn inside, and like you, I think this is a HUGE PR blunder that will have ramifications on the church for years to come.

Gay LDS Actor said...

I was dubious, too. I did see a copy of the actual document, and if it isn't legit, it sure is a good counterfeit because it looked exactly like one of the forms you see at the temple when names are done.

Real or fake, I certainly don't think Church leaders endorse it. If it is real, my guess would be it was done by an overzealous, perhaps well-intentioned, but misguided member.

But I agree, I think this Prop. 8 stuff will turn out to be a PR fiasco for the Church and will likely continue to have unforseen negative effects.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I suspect it will turn out like the black civil rights thing. Years down the road -- even if the LDS Church continues to not accept gay marriage, which is what I fully expect -- we'll look back and feel much like we feel now when we have to try and justify (even though we can't) why some Church leaders said in the 60's that blacks shouldn't have civil rights and that the civil rights movement was evil, communist, Satan's plan, that blacks would/should never marry interracially, etc, etc.

Regardless of how any of us really feel about gay marriage (and I've always been honest and said that although I sympathize with it, I'm not "totally on board"), all those who voted YES on 8 won't be patting themselves on the back for very long. We all know that it's coming. The question isn't if, but when. And frankly, I think there are worse things that could happen in society.

My best friend since kindergarten is a lesbian. I've asked myself what I would do if I were someday invited to her wedding. A few years ago, I probably would have thought that it would be inappropriate for me to attend such a wedding, that it would be sending a bad message, etc. Now I think, what does it matter what I think? I can be happy for my friends, whether I agree with their life decisions or not. I visit and associate with heterosexual friends who live common-law and I would attend a wedding of theirs. I don't pass judgment on them, so why should it be any different for my gay friends?

Gay LDS Actor said...

I suspect you're right, FD. I don't expect or believe that the LDS Church will accept gay marriage, but I do think gay rights are unstoppable as a civil rights movement. I think it's going to happen. Like you say, it's not a question of "if," but "when."

Interesting you mention what you would do if invited to your friend's wedding. I've had my own predicament of deciding who to invite to my commitment ceremony. Most friends and family know I'm gay, but there are a couple of friends who are very active in my ward, and while I've wanted to invite them, I don't want to make them feel awkward about supporting something they don't feel comfortable with. One of my friends actually made the decision for me when she asked when my ceremony was, and I told her and asked her if she was interested in coming, and she said, "definitely." It then occurred to me that I need to put the ball in my friends' court. I'll invite the people I want to come, and they can make the decision themselves about whether it's something they want to be involved in.

We're trying to keep the ceremony small. Jonah's family isn't coming, and the majority of the people there will be from my side, so I don't want to tip the balance in a way that will make it feel like it's all about me and my guests. Granted, the day will be difficult for Jonah regardless, but I'm trying to keep it a relatively small affair. This leads to another problem: how does one decide who to invite without risking hurting the feelings of common friends and/or family that one doesn't invite? It's a conundrum.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I think that because it's your special day, you don't need to focus so much on whether or not the feelings of others are going to be hurt if they don't get invited. When my husband and I got married, we decided it was going to be small. We had about 25people. It was just our immediate families, as well as a few extended family members that were in the area, and our closest friends. Although in my home ward (about 125 people) most couples would have sent a reception invitation to pretty much all the active families in the ward, I knew that I wasn't going to do that and I wasn't going to feel guilty about it. :) I was only going to invite the people that I cared about most and who I knew cared about us. So I invited probably around 8 fellow ward members that I was close to and that was it. So about half was family and half was ward members and close friends. I don't have any regrets about how we did it.

I think that it would probably be wise to send invitations to all family members (unless you know there is someone who is really against and/or uncomfortable about it) and then your closest friends and ward members who are aware of your situation. I expect that those who care about you will come. Some may have to think about it -- as I would have before in such a situation -- but like I said, those who care about you will be able to be happy for you and respect your decision and happiness. If any of them don't, just respect their decision and try not to take it personally. Perhaps it just means that they haven't gotten that far yet in deciding how to deal with gay friends. It will at least give them some food for thought and later on, they may regret that they weren't there to support you on your day.

Is Jonah's family not taking it well? Is that why none of them are coming?

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks for the advice. My main problem has been trying to keep it small. There are many people I genuinely want to invite, but I can't invite everybody I want to, so I'm having to pick and choose. Obviously, I'm inviting people who I feel have had an impact on me, especially in this particular journey, and then there are others who I want to invite because they are good friends, but who haven't impacted me quite as much, and so I'm choosing to not invite them to this particular event. I pretty much have my guest list now, but it has been challenging deciding which people to eliminate from this particular event.

I have no problem with anyone not coming. It's their option, not mine, and I won't be offended.

Many in Jonah's family simply do not know the extent of our relationship. He knows that those he hasn't told will react negatively and make his life difficult, and he doesn't want to deal with that at this particular time. As he says, he just "wants to be happy," for a change.