Posts Tagged ‘california’
Gay marriage letter sparks opposing view
With respect to the letter of Nov. 14 “People have spoken on gay marriage bans,” I feel the writer made several wrong points.
Despite the writer’s feelings that California’s vote on Proposition 8 is a dead topic, it is still in debate if the vote (52-48 percent) was enough of a majority to cause a “revision” to California’s constitution (needing 67 percent in favor) rather than an “amendment.” Most constitutions were written with an understanding of the magnitude of turning over a basic premise (equality) versus “amending” a minor issue.
The writer speaks as if the slight majority of California has spoken with a thundering voice that Proposition 8 was the right thing to do, when in reality, even with all of the misinformation spread about the rights of gay people to marry, the law passed by a very thin majority, too thin, many feel, to overturn the more powerful basic stature of the California Constitution.
The writer then goes on to talk about marrying minors and goats, and comparing that to two adult human beings who are in love.
Laws protect minors because the legislature and the voters feel minors have not reached the age of consent and therefore cannot make an adult decision on an act that will affect the rest of their lives.
Goats (and animals of most types) do not have the cognizant capabilities to have “consent.” It would be impossible for a goat to enter into marriage, since the goat would not have the ability to understand the phrase “I do,” to make the commitment of a lifetime of love and respect.
We are not talking about children, nor are we talking about goats. We are talking about two consenting human beings who want to have exactly the same rights – including divorce, having a family, earning respect – as do millions of other couples.
Those people who feel that “civil unions” convey these rights must never have studied law. Law is based on words, phrases and precedence, which sometimes follow a tricky path.
What is a “civil union” in one state may or may not exist in another. What does it mean to be “civil unioned” in Vermont and “un-civil-unioned” in Texas, which does not support civil unions? Is it the same as “divorce?”
What if you are “married” in Massachusetts and need to get “divorced” in a state that does not recognize that marriage? As a country we recognize the bond of marriage in all of our states. This is not true of “civil unions.”
Like it or not, the laws of a nation, and indeed the world, have been written around a word. How we treat a couple in love, their rights and obligations, is based on that word “marriage.”
Unless we go through every law and every statute and make sure that the laws are consistent, then there is no equal rights under the law for one group to be “civil unioned” and one group to be “married.”
The word that defines an unequivocal and inseparable love and a commitment to that love is “marriage.” That the word “marriage” does not mean only a commitment between a man and a woman is shown in our vernacular: “I am married to my job;” “I am married to my cause.”
We use these phrases every day. The phrase “married” in these cases mean commitment, love and duty. These are the things that two people mean when they say their vows, whether they be homosexual or heterosexual.
The writer of that letter feels the “voters have spoken.” I am old enough to remember the 1950s, and I can tell you that the “voters spoke” over civil rights, particularly in the South, and they rejected civil rights for African Americans.
Fortunately, some brave judges and some brave politicians stood up and declared that discrimination as being wrong, and from that the civil rights amendments and laws were created. I still have hope that this will happen again and that the recent attack on the constitution of California will be overturned.
For those who feel that the equalization of marriage will happen “in good time,” “in good time” will not help two of my male friends who shared 40 years of fidelity and love. They will never be able to say that they were “married.” One of them died last year of brain cancer.
I hope that the American people will finally see the inequality and inhumanity of what they are doing and allow gay marriage to happen before too many more couples are parted in death.
Goats? And (better yet) taxpaying goats? The argument is not just ridiculous, it is just plain baaaaad.
Jon A. Hall
California’s Prop. 8 has exploded into an expensive, extensive battle between religious conservatives and gay rights advocates.
REXBURG, IDAHO — America’s Family Community.” That’s the motto of this Mormon college town, displayed on street-side monuments and in tall letters on the movie-theater marquee. Apparently, it’s a formula for success. Rexburg thrives on a burst of construction and population growth. More than 30,000 residents occupy a grid of wide, orderly streets, amid vast potato fields that unfurl toward the majestic Teton Peaks. Plenty of Rexburg parents, following the Mormon prescription for big families, have six or seven children. One guy tells me his next-door neighbors have 13 children, and a family on the other side has 16. The newly expanded hospital maternity unit is already crowded with new babies. If Rexburg is any indication, Mormons are taking over the world.
They certainly run this town. An estimated 97 percent of the locals belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — making Rexburg possibly the most Mormon of all towns. The brilliant white-stone 57,000-square-foot Mormon temple, opened eight months ago, looms on a hilltop, glowing day and night; intense floodlights make Mormon temples the brightest objects in the Western nights. The college that sprawls beside the temple — Brigham Young University-Idaho — now boasts an annual enrollment of 21,000 students, more than double what it had eight years ago.
Mormon mores — some written into local laws — permeate the community. Rexburg has no real saloon and no supply of hard liquor; only four restaurants are licensed to serve beer or wine. There is only one coffee shop, and it keeps up with the meager caffeine demand by brewing each cup individually. When I cruise town on a pleasant Saturday night in mid-September, the hottest action comes down in a bowling alley: Balls crash down all 16 lanes while the spinning pins and the bowlers’ teeth glow even whiter under the ultraviolet lighting.
But something louder and bigger draws me to Rexburg: the religious culture wars, which heat up every election season. Prophets who run the Mormon Church — the church president, his top counselors and a dozen top apostles, based in the headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah — encourage all Mormons to be active in politics. The prophets are said to be relaying the word of God, and while they generally don’t endorse candidates, they take stands on issues such as abortion and homosexuality. As a result, most Mormons vote very Republican. In the last presidential election, nearly 92 percent of the votes in Madison County (Rexburg is the county seat) went to George W. Bush — securing Rexburg yet another title: the nation’s most Republican town.
On the most critical issues, the Mormon prophets go all out, urging their followers to conduct targeted campaigns. That helps explain why, Thursday evenings in the downtown building of a health-products company owned by one of Idaho’s richest Mormons, groups of Rexburg college students and townies get together. They’re using the company’s call center to make call after call to California voters, trying to persuade them to pass a ballot measure in the November election. It’s titled Proposition 8 — the California Marriage Protection Amendment — and it aims to prevent gay and lesbian people from getting married in that state.
An eight-year battle led to Proposition 8. In 2000, with Mormon encouragement and campaign money, California voters passed a measure banning gay marriage. It blew up again last May, when the California Supreme Court justices narrowly ruled (four to three) that the ban violated the civil rights of gays and lesbians. The court likened it to the bans many states once had against interracial marriage, all of which were tossed out long ago. Now, Proposition 8 aims to overrule the California Supreme Court, by amending the state Constitution.
Many religious groups have jumped into the campaign; the Mormon Church takes the lead. In June, the church’s top prophets commanded Mormons “to do all you can” to work for Proposition 8 and donate money to the campaign. Mormon leaders throughout California read the instructions to their congregations, which have more than 750,000 members. Word spread everywhere in the Mormon realm. In August, the prophets added pages of elaboration: “The Church has a single, undeviating standard of sexual morality: intimate relations are proper only between a husband and a wife united in bonds of matrimony. … Any dilution of the traditional definition of marriage will further erode the already weakened stability of marriages and family generally … with harmful consequences for society.” Mormon volunteers, additionally inspired by special TV broadcasts beamed from the headquarters into their churches, go door-to-door in California for Proposition 8. In other states, they run phone banks and do whatever they can. Their effort is strongest in the West, because there are more Mormons in this region than anywhere else. Chad Reiser, a leader of the BYU-Idaho College Republican Club, says the phone banks are not an official club activity, but “we do try to get as many people involved as possible. Proposition 8 is a moral issue” related to church doctrine — “something we believe is important to all people.”
Kim B. Clark, the president of BYU-Idaho and a pillar of Rexburg’s Mormon establishment, receives me in his office on a sunny Tuesday morning. His windows look out on construction cranes erecting a huge events center that will have a 15,000-seat auditorium and 10 basketball courts. He talks of more university projects. He appears confident, and wears a pinstripe charcoal suit and red-pattern necktie, with a well-thumbed 2,000-page book of scriptures within reach. He grew up a Western Mormon in Utah and Washington, earned a Ph.D. at Harvard University and ran the Harvard Business School. He left Harvard three years ago, because the top prophet invited him to shape this college. It was “like getting a call from Moses,” Clark says.
When I ask Clark about his church’s campaign against gay marriage in California, I note that some people consider it a violation of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights — which mandate the separation of church and state. He strongly disagrees. Those who would limit his church’s work against homosexuality, he says, “cloak their arguments in other terms … (such as) civil rights … but their fundamental purpose is to destroy religion in our society.”
He says these battles will occur more and more frequently: “We’re seeing a change in the political environment and interest groups. … It takes many different forms. It’s not directed at any particular religion. It’s driven by people who are against religion.”
As over-the-top as that sounds, Proposition 8 is a Western showdown with national implications. Hollywood celebrities, civil-rights groups, dissident Mormons, mega-businesses such as Google, politicians and other interests around the country have also jumped in. Shortly, the election results on Proposition 8 will create a new landmark signifying how much influence religions can assert on our modern society. Behind all the fury, I find something unexpected in the Rexburg area. It seems to me, despite appearances, the Mormon Church may be losing its grip.
Religious culture wars erupt constantly in this country, in squabbles over reciting prayers in government meetings, putting Christian monuments on public property, mentioning God in the Pledge of Allegiance — even over God’s opinion about building a gas pipeline from Alaska to the Lower 48 states. (Sarah Palin says He backs the pipeline.)
Gay rights and abortion are the two fiercest battlegrounds. But since a basic right to abortion was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, abortion foes have only been able to chip fragments off that right (requiring underage girls to get permission from a parent, and so on); they also push for appointing sympathetic Supreme Court justices, who could theoretically overturn Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, gay marriage has gradually taken on more importance.
Overt conflicts over legislating the rights of gays and lesbians began some three decades ago, and ever since, the West has been a fierce battleground. In the early 1990s, liberal-leaning Colorado cities and the state government made laws protecting gays from housing and employment discrimination. In response, anti-gay religious forces successfully pushed a 1992 amendment to the Colorado Constitution, stating that gays could not be considered a minority and therefore could not claim discrimination. That earned Colorado an ugly nickname — “The Hate State” — until 1996, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the amendment violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
James Dobson, the right-wing evangelical who runs the Focus on the Family group, moved his headquarters from California to Colorado Springs in 1991 and rode the anti-gay campaign to worldwide prominence. Today, Dobson has a daily TV show, and his daily radio program runs on more than 5,000 stations. When he mobilized his followers against abortion-rights Democratic senators running for re-election several years ago, The New York Times crowned him as “the nation’s most influential evangelical leader … (showing) a new level of direct partisan engagement.”
The West’s reputation for anti-gayness was furthered by the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student. Two homophobic men tied Shepard to a fence outside Laramie, pistol-whipped him and left him to die. The murder became the basis for a widely performed play and documentary movie — The Laramie Project — and other movies and books also helped raise awareness about the struggles of gays and lesbians. Many governments around the country have responded by passing laws prohibiting discrimination against gay people. The anti-gay religious forces have tried to hold the line on marriage. In 1996, they pushed the Defense of Marriage Act through a then-Republican Congress. The law says that the federal government does not recognize gay marriage, and that all states are not required to recognize gay marriages held in the few states that allow it (at the moment, only Massachusetts, Connecticut and California do). Anti-gay advocates have also pushed laws banning gay marriage in many states, including Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington. The bans prevent gays from getting married in courthouses, and prevent pro-gay-marriage preachers from performing ceremonies. Gay-rights advocates have pushed back, winning compromises, mainly an increasing acceptance of domestic partnerships or “civil unions.” Civil unions can provide some of the rights inherent in marriage, but it’s complicated; for couples trying to share health insurance, for instance, it depends on interactions of many different state laws and insurance companies’ policies. Even many Democrats — the party that gets the most gay votes — feel compelled to take stands against gay marriage. Although he supports civil unions, Barack Obama, for instance, describes marriage as “a union between a man and a woman. … For me as a Christian, it is a sacred union. God’s in the mix.”
Today, the West’s key players on gay marriage include the Alliance Defense Fund, a nonprofit lawfirm based in Scottsdale, Ariz. It has 40 lawyers on staff, according to its Web site, and works with “nearly 1,100 attorneys nationwide” advocating for a Christian presence in national parks, city council meetings and other venues. The Alliance Defense Fund often goes to court against gay marriage, and represents the “Yes on Proposition 8″ campaign in California. “God has granted us an amazing opportunity to serve Him” in courtrooms, the firm says. “God created marriage as the unity of one man and one woman. This has been both the legal and traditional understanding of a marriage … for millennia, since Eden (referring to the Bible story that the first man and woman met in the Garden of Eden). … There is no more critical battle for our nation’s future.”
On the other side, the West is home to groups such as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Based in Albuquerque, N.M., it challenges the growing evangelical Christian influence in the U.S. military. Generals and other officers often pressure their soldiers to join in Christian prayers and read the Bible — even to play Christian video games. And the military’s evangelical tone includes “virulent homophobia,” says the group’s founder, Mikey Weinstein. He’s a Jewish graduate of the Air Force Academy, a lawyer and registered Republican, who speaks rapid-fire about “religious predation by military superiors (who are) fundamentalist Christians — the draconian specter of military command influence” being used to commit “spiritual rape.”
More than 9,000 active and retired military people — including gays and lesbians in uniform, “highly decorated combat vets” and generals — have complained to Weinstein’s group about the pressure they face, he says. The group currently has two lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Defense in an attempt to make the military evangelicals back off. The group’s supporters include former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm and the California Council of Churches IMPACT group, which represents more than 5,000 churches serving 21 Protestant denominations. “We have some gay people on the advisory board” of the group, Weinstein says, and “it’s possible — though not on our scope right now” that someday he’ll go to court specifically to try to force the military to be more accepting of gays and gay marriage. “Anybody who is against gay rights,” he says, “is an enemy of ours.”
And a basic regional character trait can mean rough going for the anti-gay forces: Westerners in general show a remarkable skepticism toward organized religion. Oregon is the least church-going state in the country, with 27 percent of its adults saying they’re unaffiliated with any religion. Washington, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado all rank above 20 percent, according to a 2008 survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Forum on Religion & Public Life. (Only New England rivals the West in the rate of rejecting organized religion.)
Whatever happens in November, California’s Proposition 8 will be an important landmark. Not only does California have 37 million residents, it also has a legendary trend-setting role. And California’s increasing diversity raises the odds that a majority of its voters would support gay marriage in 2008.
Thus, Proposition 8 has exploded into the most expensive, extensive gay-marriage battle ever. The forces pushing it include all the Mormons who’ve made individual campaign donations totaling more than $9 million (more than 40 percent of the war chest, the Mormons for Proposition 8 group reported in mid-October). Conservative Catholics, including the Knights of Columbus, have kicked in more than $1 million. Other notable backers include Dobson’s Focus on the Family (about $500,000), a wealthy board member of that group ($450,000), an Orthodox Jewish group based in New York City, evangelical groups from all over, miscellaneous Baptists and Muslims and Sikhs, the National Organization for Marriage (about $950,000), the American Family Association ($500,000), a couple of right-wing foundations ($1.5 million), and countless Republicans who don’t necessarily belong to any of the other groups.
The forces against Proposition 8 include local governments, such as the Palm Springs City Council. Episcopal bishops oppose it, preaching tolerance, as does a lone Catholic priest in the Fresno area, who recently told his congregation that he’s gay. Many businesses oppose Proposition 8, including the giant utility, Pacific Gas & Electric ($250,000 to the campaign against Proposition 8), AT&T ($25,000), and the Levi Strauss jeans company ($25,000 from the company and $100,000 from the company’s chairman emeritus and his wife). The Valley Industry and Commerce Association, in the Los Angeles area, opposes 8. Google, based in California’s Silicon Valley, normally stays out of politics, but Sergey Brin, the company’s co-founder and president, offers this statement: “While we respect the strongly-held beliefs that people have on both sides of this argument, we see this fundamentally as an issue of equality. We should not eliminate anyone’s fundamental rights, whatever their sexuality, to marry the person they love.”
Actor Brad Pitt ($100,000) and director Steven Spielberg ($100,000), many unions, Unitarians, miscellaneous rabbis and Presbyterians, psychiatrists’ and psychologists’ groups, the Gray Panthers and the American Civil Liberties Union ($1.5 million) oppose Proposition 8. So does the Human Rights Campaign ($2 million), the National Center for Lesbian Rights ($500,000), the Chinese Rainbow Association, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force ($200,000-plus) and Tim Gill, the Denver-based founder of the Quark software company ($350,000). Democratic New York Gov. David Paterson has come out against it, as has Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein tells a gay magazine: “The views of Californians on this issue have changed over time … I believe we should uphold the ability of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers who are gay and lesbian to enter into the contract of marriage.” The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group, runs Republicans Against 8, which pays for TV ads against the proposition.
Californians passed their initial gay-marriage ban by a wide margin (61 percent to 39 percent). The margin on Proposition 8 is closer and less certain. Polling up to late September indicated a slim majority had emerged in support of gay marriage. Then the first statewide TV ads from the other side aired — claiming gay marriage is being forced on churches and public school curriculums — and the polling suddenly tipped the other way. With a total of $27 million donated to the Proposition 8 campaign, and $19 million against it, it’ll likely be a photo finish.
Many straight people — regardless of their religion or lack of it — have become more accepting of gay marriage. “They know a lot more about gay people. Maybe they know someone who is gay, which makes a huge difference. They know gay people are just people,” says Bruce Bastian, who grew up Mormon in Idaho and then moved to Utah. Eventually, he came out as a gay and gave up the Mormon Church. He got rich by founding the WordPerfect software company, and he’s donated more than $1 million to the campaign against Proposition 8.
The Mormons fled the Eastern U.S. in the 1800s to escape religious persecution, and they’ve done well out West. The 178-year-old church — an infant compared to most major religions — has grown rapidly; it has more than 13 million members worldwide, including more than 4 million in the West. Now it’s powerful enough to enforce some of its doctrines on whoever lives in its Western strongholds. In Utah, for instance, anyone who wants a glass of hard liquor must join a private club, provide personal information and pay a fee.
At a glance, Rexburg seems to demonstrate what happens when a religion takes over completely. Almost all the city and county officials are Mormon Republicans. The leading industry, BYU-Idaho, has woven Mormon doctrine throughout its classes. Students must obey an honor code that’s even more conservative than the main BYU campus in Provo, Utah: no beards, no mustaches below the mouth corners, no hair dyed “unnatural colors,” no shorts on campus, no sandals in public places, no “gaucho-style pants above the ankle” and so on. Students live in BYU-approved apartments sporting signs like “Approved Housing for Young Ladies.” Curfew is midnight, except on Fridays, when it’s extended for one hour.
“Choose your friends carefully,” warns a 47-page Mormon rulebook called For the Strength of Youth. “Choose friends who share your values so you can strengthen and encourage each other in living high standards.” Watch out for Satan’s lures in “websites, concerts, movies, music, video cassettes, DVDs, books, magazines, pictures and other media.” As for sexual behavior, even “passionate kissing” is forbidden until the marriage ceremony is performed. The expectation is for Mormons to get married young — men go on two-year missions when they’re 19, and come back ready to settle down.
All the college teachers and staff must also be Mormons in good standing. If they waver, they can be fired — even the professors have no tenure, no job security. Meanwhile, the Rexburg city government Web site offers information on the “Mormon Way of Doing Business.”
What has Rexburg achieved with its sexual taboos and strict moral standards? Conventional wisdom says the town and college provide security — a safe place to live. But as I dig into the records, I find that in the past year alone, Rexburg has experienced a fair amount of insecurity. There have been many thefts from businesses, residences and parked cars; cases of embezzlement, attempted rape, and domestic abuse; a major drug ring stretching to other states; shots fired in road rage; underage drinking in a Mormon church; attempted suicide; a faked kidnapping; and at least 10 pedestrians run down in crosswalks (two of them died). Child pornography was discovered on two men’s computers, and another guy was found to have molested kids for the past 29 years. In one case of child abuse, a father repeatedly dropped and squeezed his infant, to the point of breaking bones. Some of the incidents seem downright bizarre, fodder for the pages of supermarket tabloids: A man caught masturbating in the city library, and an apparently mentally disturbed person climbing out onto the roof of the temple. In a nearby town, an illegal immigrant impregnated a 9-year-old girl. (She was 10 years old when she gave birth to a 6-pound baby, by caesarian section, in the Rexburg hospital.) A local cop, himself a Mormon, tells me he’s seen “countless” child abuse cases, at least six kids beaten to death, and many suicides in his two decades on the job. He says Rexburg’s Mormon community is in “total denial” about this kind of stuff. “Religion has nothing to do with crime,” he observes. “It comes down to human behavior, human nature.”
Rexburg does achieve a superficial sameness among its residents, an exclusion of those who seem different. It feels safe in that sense. People who might want good coffee to be handy, or a drink of hard liquor, or an abortion, or gay sex, or passionate kissing before marriage without shame — and people who consider such people interesting and worthwhile — apparently go elsewhere to live.
On a Rexburg Sunday, the streets are especially quiet; the Mormon Church requires its members to attend no less than three hours of Sunday service, plus other family and religious activities. Even the Subway, Quiznos and Cold Stone Creamery are closed. (In a true Battle of the Titans, even Wal-Mart closed on Sundays for the first six months it did business here; then it decided to stay open.) Mormon preaching and music plays on radio and TV all day. Despite the religious grip, though, there is some dissent. Elsewhere, some Mormons have openly called for an end to discrimination against gay people. And dissenters have made themselves heard in the past — sometimes successfully. Until 1978, the church held that black skin was caused by God’s curse, and in its early years, Mormons notoriously embraced polygamy and confined women strictly to child-rearing. (Even today, there are still no blacks and women in the church’s top leadership roles.)
Affirmation is a worldwide organization of gay and lesbian Mormons, with chapters spread from California to London and Johannesburg, South Africa. PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is a national group with more than 200,000 members. By contacting both groups, I network into a different local scene. It includes Rexburg but centers on Idaho Falls, the effective capital of Mormon Idaho — those dozen or so counties that lie closest to Utah and have populations that are more than 50 percent Mormon. As I drive the 27 miles from Rexburg to Idaho Falls, a Mormon on the car radio preaches: “We cannot expect God’s help if we are unwilling to keep His commandments.”
Between the cities, the last cuttings of hay lie baled in the fields. Cottonwoods and brush are turning autumn colors. Idaho Falls has about 53,000 residents, an old downtown on the Snake River banks and a sprawl of newer malls and neighborhoods. A federal nuclear lab and several small non-Mormon colleges draw an array of people who somewhat counterbalance Idaho Falls’ Mormon temple, but still, the city is roughly 54 percent Mormon. When July 4th falls on a Sunday, Idaho Falls shifts its fireworks to July 3rd or July 5th. I find Dixie’s Diner, which has an American flag flapping overhead and a kitschy 1950s-motif: red vinyl seats and chrome trim. In the banquet room in back, I meet the Gay Sunday Brunch group — several dozen gay guys and a few lesbians who meet in the diner every Sunday.
Christopher Jones, 33, grew up Mormon in Rexburg and tells me that it was “very confusing.” He’s sitting beside Danny Yandell, who is 43 and speaks with an Arkansas drawl; Yandell’s been around here 14 years working as a surgical nurse. Jones and Yandell have been together about a year-and-a-half and like to go camping, hunting, and fishing. They flew to California in August to get married in a Unitarian church. “I wanted a church wedding because I’m spiritual,” Yandell says.
Mart Borg, who describes himself as an inactive Mormon, works as a butcher in an Albertson’s grocery store. On the side, he runs a hiking-with-llamas group for gays. He went to California this summer to marry the man he’s been with for 20 years. “We exchanged rings 20 years ago; we just wanted to make it legal,” Borg tells me.
I get to know other gays and lesbians in Mormon Idaho, and some who have roots here but have since moved on. They’re teachers, a city planner, experts in this or that at the nuclear lab, a sales manager at a printing plant, and so on. Many grew up in the Mormon Church, and their accomplishments include serving on missions, serving as church leaders, even singing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They felt the church’s pressure to live straight lives. Officially, the church seeks to persuade homosexuals to abstain or be heterosexual, through counseling and pressing them to marry members of the opposite sex. “I saw gay men struggling with their sense of self-worth (in counseling), and I didn’t see them as an abomination of God,” says John Bonner, who grew up gay in Rexburg and now lives in Salt Lake City. Two of his gay friends committed suicide, and he thinks it was directly tied to their Mormon faith. “They saw it as irresolvable.”
They tell me that even the ranks of straight Mormons are not monolithic. Jones realized he was gay in grade school, but “took a long time to come out because people in Rexburg are very judgmental.” He had two friends who risked coming out while they attended high school in Rexburg. Their Mormon bishops ex-communicated them — a big deal for faithful Mormons, because their doctrine says they won’t join their families and friends in heaven. Jones’ sister outed him to his bishop when he was 21. But “that bishop was a very understanding person,” Jones says. “He had the opportunity to ex-communicate me and didn’t. He wished I’d been celibate (and not gay), but he wasn’t pressing the normal gospel of ‘men with men is a sin.’ He just said, as long as I live a good life, he was happy for me.” Jones, who’s worked as a bank teller, a Burger King manager, a grocery manager, and at the Idaho Falls Wal-Mart, also still considers himself a Mormon.
And those who reject the Mormon Church still try to maintain ties to Mormon friends and family, including ex-wives, kids, parents and siblings. Often they’re accepted in those ranks. When Jones and Yandell came back from California, they had a wedding reception in Idaho Falls, attended by 52 people, most of whom are straight Mormons. They go to Rexburg for family gatherings with Jones’ parents, who are devout Mormons; the parents were wary at first, but now they accept Yandell and include him in Easter dinner and family photos. Some high-ranking Mormons in Rexburg tell me they also have family members and friends who are gay or lesbian.
Some still feel it necessary to keep their sexual identity in the closet — especially those who live in Rexburg. John Schroeder sees both the positives and the negatives. He converted to Mormonism at age 24, and was active in the church for more than 20 years, struggling over his sexual identity. He married in a temple, served as a church elder, and finally came out. Now he heads the physicians’ assistant program at Idaho State University in Pocatello, and lives in Idaho Falls. He’s been with Mike Tyacke, who works for the lab, moving spent nuclear fuel around the world, for seven years. Schroeder says: “Homophobic tripe is preached from the pulpit of every LDS church every Sunday (while) gay people in the congregation don’t speak up.” But he adds, “In my eight years of being a very ‘out’ person in Idaho Falls, I’ve been interviewed on TV and done debates on gay marriage. People come up to me in the grocery store and say, ‘I saw you on TV.’ No one has ever come up to me and said anything negative. It’s easier to be out now than it used to be.”
A local lesbian who has a white-collar job, and wishes to keep her name out of this story, says that in recent years, “the gay and lesbian community here has really bonded. We’re an inclusive group. If we were in a big city, we could afford to have internal prejudices. Here, we can’t afford it.”
Many agree that the turning point here occurred eight years ago. It was a court battle between Theron McGriff, who’d come out as gay, and his ex-wife, over custody of their kids. McGriff’s case began in 2000, and in 2004 the Idaho Supreme Court created an Idaho landmark: The court ruled that homosexuality can’t be used against a parent in a custody argument unless it’s clearly detrimental to the children. The court awarded custody to McGriff’s ex-wife on other grounds, but these days, McGriff and his partner, an inactive Mormon who spent time in Rexburg, are still involved in raising McGriff’s kids. “One thing I learned,” McGriff says, “is that a judge can’t break up a family.”
When McGriff’s battle began, he and his friends got the idea of auctioning off many of his possessions to raise money to help cover his lawyer fees and his child-support payments. They formed a group called Breaking Boundaries, and it’s grown to be both substantial and mainstream. It promotes many kinds of diversity, raising money through various auctions, beer festivals and other events, and spreading the money around through grants for community projects including after-school programs for schoolkids. Breaking Boundaries’ biggest fund-raiser is a black-tie dinner and auction every Christmas season that rakes in tens of thousands of dollars. “It’s THE event of the year for this community,” one of the organizers, Ron Folsom, tells me. It’s even surpassed the Firemen’s Ball and the Inventors’ Ball in popularity.
Last December, Breaking Boundaries held the fancy dinner in the Idaho Falls Elks Club; 40 volunteers served dinner to 275 people, and they estimate about one-fourth were gay or lesbian. They had an Egyptian theme, and a Mormon dance team from BYU-Idaho performed in Egyptian costumes. They’ve already sold $42,000 worth of tickets to this year’s dinner. It’s just one sign of how things are changing, even in Mormon Idaho. Sooner or later, some locals say, gay marriage will be recognized everywhere. They may not say it out loud quite yet, but if you listen carefully, you can hear it between the lines.
This story first appeared on October 22, 2008 in High Country News (www.hcn.org), which covers the West’s communities and natural-resource issues.
The legal challenge to California’s Proposition 8 has six lawsuits going for it, a host of influential friends of the court and the governor’s opinion that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Whether the challenge has a chance is another matter.
In a recent meeting with the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed confidence that the ban would be overturned, because the California Supreme Court this year rejected an earlier ban, Proposition 22, as unconstitutional. The governor is being politically sensible but legally naive about this; the arguments against Proposition 8 hang on different precedents, issues and history.
The definition of marriage in the two initiatives is identical: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” But Proposition 8 embeds that definition in the state Constitution, and it would defy reason for the court to hold that part of the Constitution is unconstitutional. In challenging the measure, the lawsuits argue that it is not in fact a constitutional amendment, which requires only a simple majority of the popular vote for passage, but rather a constitutional revision, a fundamental change in the Constitution that entails a far more complicated approval process.
The state Supreme Court has never been all that clear on what it considers revision, but it has set the bar high, finding only twice that supposed amendments actually revised the Constitution. Measures that insert sizable passages on multiple issues seem to fall into the “revision” category; in a 1948 case, the court struck down an amendment that would have added 21,000 words covering various topics to the 55,000-word Constitution.
Proposition 8 lies at the opposite end of the spectrum, a mere 14 words that strip one group of people (homosexual couples) of one right (legally recognized marriage). The California court rejected similar challenges to the death penalty and to a proposition that affected property taxes, both of which, it ruled, were properly considered amendments, not revisions. And this year, the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected a lawsuit on same-sex marriage much like the current lawsuits — Oregon’s Constitution has similar provisions on revision and equal protection. As a result, the legal challenge to Proposition 8 is generally seen as a long shot.
Yet that doesn’t mean the lawsuits are without merit. The California court has indicated that the quality of the change matters, not just its length or breadth. Gay-rights supporters argue that by stripping a protected group of the right to marry, Proposition 8 nullifies the equal-protection provisions of the U.S. and California constitutions. The Oregon court disagreed, but there is a potentially important difference between the two states: The Oregon Supreme Court has never ruled that marriage is a fundamental right under its state Constitution. The California Supreme Court has.
There are other legal precedents to consider. In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a constitutional amendment in Colorado that would have forbidden all laws protecting civil-rights for homosexuals. The ban violated the equal-protection provisions of the 14th Amendment, the court wrote, by singling out one group to be denied the rights enjoyed by all others.
But there also are differences between the Colorado and California measures. In Colorado, gays and lesbians were denied legal protection against discrimination in housing, employment and other basics of life. The court cited the breadth and basic nature of these rights in its ruling, saying there could be no legitimate state interest in the measure, simply animosity toward one group; in contrast, same-sex marriage is both newer and narrower, although, according to the California high court, an equally basic right.
Although we, too, will welcome the day that Proposition 8 is consigned to history and the right to same-sex marriage is restored to Californians, we are sorry to see that the court agreed to take the cases directly rather than letting this issue percolate up through the lower courts. We see no reason for the haste, despite the intensity of emotion roused by the measure’s passage. In fact, that very heatedness is a reason for the court to move slowly, allowing it to rule under cooler circumstances.
Similarly, painful though it is to see Proposition 8 take effect, we agree with the court’s decision to allow it to stand as law until the court rules. This is a hateful measure, passed after a campaign of misleading scare tactics, but it did pass. Suspending further same-sex marriages while the litigation proceeds will delay the exercise of this fundamental right, but we are a democratic nation and one bound by the rule of law; until voters reconsider or the courts decide otherwise, there is no option but to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Many voters will claim that the courts should have no jurisdiction. Just as they did after the California court’s May ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, these people will complain about “activist judges” potentially subverting the will of the people. Maybe schools need to strengthen their civics lessons so that future voters will understand that supreme courts specifically are charged with ruling on constitutional questions — and it is a sacred and historic role of the courts to protect minority rights as enshrined in state and federal constitutions. Indeed, if courts merely existed to ratify the will of majorities, they would add little to our society.
The California Supreme Court could rule either way on whether Proposition 8 amounts to a constitutional revision, but the issue demands its attention. The court already has found that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right; now it has the opportunity to fulfill its constitutional obligations to guard against the tyranny of the majority and to ensure that elections do not become vehicles of repression.
Read the article:
From USA Today:
Elton John, accompanied by his longtime partner, David Furnish, had some choice words about California’s Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage that passed on Nov. 4.
In December 2005, John and Furnish tied the knot in a civil partnership ceremony in Windsor, England. But, clarified the singer, “We’re not married. Let’s get that right. We have a civil partnership. What is wrong with Proposition 8 is that they went for marriage. Marriage is going to put a lot of people off, the word marriage.”
John and Furnish, and their two cocker spaniels, Marilyn and Arthur, were in town for Tuesday’s annual benefit for the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
“I don’t want to be married. I’m very happy with a civil partnership. If gay people want to get married, or get together, they should have a civil partnership,” John says. “The word ‘marriage,’ I think, puts a lot of people off.
“You get the same equal rights that we do when we have a civil partnership. Heterosexual people get married. We can have civil partnerships.”
NOTE: Elton John lives in England, where civil partnerships and marriage are equal in rights. In California, civil unions and marriage are not equal. Maybe someone should let Sir Elton know this before making this comment again???
When is someone going to start a petition which bans outside interests from contributing to issues which affect Californians?
If you don’t live in the Land of Fruit and Nuts, then you shouldn’t be allowed to have a say in our laws! Period.
This rant, brought to you by yet another article revealing that Idaho residents gave money to the ”protect” marriage campaign.
They Stole California From Me!
California isn’t a state; it’s a concept. It’s a feeling, a vision and a hope. It was the birthplace of the Hippies, the Gold Rush and the capital of Gays. You’re supposed to be free-thinking, liberal and seeking to venture outside of the box. It’s got Hollywood for goodness sake! You can’t get much more progressive than indie filmmakers.
When I moved from the Mid-west in 2005 I thought I was leaving behind archaic views and oppressive attitudes. I re-read the emails that I sent home from the first few weeks of my settling in Los Angeles. They were full of hope for a future and relaxation. I was “home”. No more trying to blend in so as not to be pelted with rocks every time I set foot out my front door. In LA, I was me for the first time in my life. I was 37 years-old and I was finally living. I could exhale. I was safe and secure from hatred.
And, mostly, I found a woman who would stick by me through thick and thin; a woman who loved me for me, unconditionally. A woman that deserved the blue sapphire engagement ring that I put on her hand. She deserved my promise, and my love, and so much more.
Election Day 2008 was a punch in the gut to me. No, it was worse. It let all of the air out of me. I withered. They stole my hope, they stole California! How could a “progressive” state allow a group of religious right wing-nuts to strip a minority of their legal rights? How could I now look at the woman I love and say “I do”, but not legally? She deserved better. I deserved better.
Give me back “California”.
Please visit the Two Lesbos web-site to support this petition and understand their (lengthy) reasoning.
Demand respect. In California on election day 2008 a 63% majority passed Proposition 2 which, “creates a new state statute that prohibits the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs”. Yet, on the same day, 52% of the voters stripped us of basic human rights; the right to marry someone we live.
We have a proud history. In 1969 a group of strong people refused to quietly be arrested for simply enjoying themselves at a small bar called Stonewall. This began the gay rights movement, and it is now our responsibility to carry the torch they lit. They refused to be bullied, and it is our obligation to look back to Stonewall and gather our forces together to begin demanding Equality in every aspect of our lives.
Nineteen of our United States lack basic hate crimes laws to protect the GLBT community. Many more states lack laws that protect the GLBT community from discrimination in housing and employment. To be treated with true Equality, this must change. And we must be the force to change it.
2) Get Out! Be out to everyone. It’s hard to hate someone with a face. Believe me, I know telling the folks isn’t easy. I refer to my Coming Out Day as the “Day Dad Put His Foot Through The TV”. PFLAG has resources to help.
3) Get involved. Volunteer your time and/or donate money. HRC is a good place to start.
4) Get vocal. Don’t allow people at work, or in clubs and groups to make gay slurs or “jokes”.
5) Write to your elected officials voicing your concerns over your rights.
2) Join a march.
3) Write a letter to President Obama reminding him of who helped him get elected and that he needs to take our fight to the national level.
4) Sign the petition on this link:
5) Boycott straight weddings.
6) Order a “Can I Vote On Your Marriage?” bumper sticker from:
We were defeated once. But we will never give up the fight! The Mormon Church funneled $15 million dollars into the Yes on Prop 8 campaign. They forced us to make this Call To Arms. Fight back. Write letters to their church leaders expressing your frustration at their ignorance. And, support the grass roots movement to strip the Mormon Church of their tax-exemption. MormonsStoleOurRights.
We have a chance. The time is now. Make a difference. Make a change. Demand your rights!