Gay-Marriage Ban Protesters Target Mormon Church

Sign a protestor held outside the Mormon temple in Los Angeles i i

More than 2,000 people demonstrated in front of the West Los Angeles Mormon temple on Thursday, criticizing the church for what they see as its relentless support of discrimination. Amy Walters/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Amy Walters/NPR
Sign a protestor held outside the Mormon temple in Los Angeles

More than 2,000 people demonstrated in front of the West Los Angeles Mormon temple on Thursday, criticizing the church for what they see as its relentless support of discrimination.

Amy Walters/NPR
Two protestors outside the Mormon temple in Los Angeles i i

Protestors at the rally outside the Mormon temple. More demonstrations are scheduled throughout the weekend. Amy Walters/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Amy Walters/NPR
Two protestors outside the Mormon temple in Los Angeles

Protestors at the rally outside the Mormon temple. More demonstrations are scheduled throughout the weekend.

Amy Walters/NPR

Tuning in to election returns on Tuesday night, California's gay and lesbian communities assumed that a huge turnout for Barack Obama would mean the defeat of a ballot initiative repealing the legality of gay marriages.

That turned out to be critically incorrect.

Exit polls say that black and Latino voters — the same people who turned out in force to support the nation's first black presidential nominee — were much more religiously conservative than the media or opponents of the initiative, Proposition 8, had figured.

A number of gay activists expressed surprise and disappointment that communities that have known grievous discrimination would be willing to curtail the civil rights of another group.

But the support of Proposition 8 by many of California's racial and ethnic minorities doesn't surprise Diane Winston. Winston is the Knight Chair of Media and Religion at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School.

"For many believers, there's no distinction between what they see as political issues and what they see as social, moral and cultural issues," she says.

And it's been that way for centuries, she says. The movements for the abolition of slavery, temperance, civil rights and abolition of the death penalty all had roots in America's religious communities. To accomplish those goals, there have been coalitions across ecumenical lines for several decades.

"It's true that recently politics has made some strange bedfellows in terms of religious partnerships," Winston says. The Catholic Church invited the Mormon Church to join with it in 1996 to pass Proposition 22, The Defense of Marriage Act.

The two have not always enjoyed a harmonious relationship, especially because in earlier years, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church's official name) was considered sub-Christian at best, cultish at worst, by many Christian sects.

Individual members of the Mormon church have poured millions of dollars into advancing and supporting Proposition 8, although that decision has caused a significant rift among its members. While many have begun Web sites and blogs in support of same-sex unions, the majority of church members have done the bidding of their elders, who have been quite persistent in asking them to support Proposition 8.

Laura Compton manages MormonsForMarriage.com, which posits that the benefits and joys of marriage should be available to all, regardless of gender preference. Compton, who continues to attend church, says "the pressure to support the measure has been very, very intense."

Protest At The Westwood Mormon Temple

So it's no surprise that a lot of the anger over Proposition 8's success would be directed at the Mormon Church. On Thursday afternoon, more than 2,000 people marched and chanted in front of the West Los Angeles Mormon temple, criticizing the church for what they see as its relentless support of discrimination.

"I actually received my Mormon endowments — my initiations you'd call them — in this temple, and my father helped to build it," says Robert Little, pointing to the stately limestone building with a steeple topped with a golden statue of the Mormon angel, Moroni.

Little is gay and says his family expelled him as soon as they found out. They contributed $30,000 this year to support Proposition 8.

Little is a former Mormon now and says the church should stay out of what he sees as a secular issue.

"It's incomprehensible in 2008 that people still can't understand the difference between civil marriage and religious marriage," Little says. "They're separate, and they should be separate."

For the moment, gays and lesbians are offered domestic partnerships in California. But what many really want is marriage. And they're in it for the long haul.

"We are not giving up," said Kiran Kapadia, as passing motorists beeped in sympathy — and occasionally gestured disdainfully — as they whizzed past the demonstrators. "This is going to go on until we get victory, and we will, eventually."

More demonstrations are scheduled throughout the weekend in several parts of California and beyond, including the seat of the Mormon Church, Salt Lake City.

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