Activists Target Mormons for Gay-Marriage Ban's Success in California

In the nearly four weeks since Election Day, gay activists and thousands of their supporters have rallied outside Mormon temples around the country, protesting the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints' support for California's Proposition 8, the ballot initiative to make same-sex marriage illegal in the Golden State.

There have been calls to boycott the annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah; some activists have called for a boycott of the entire state of Utah. Protesters have defaced some church buildings, and in Arapaho County, Colo., the Sheriff's Office is investigating a possible hate crime — the torching of the Book of Mormon on a church's doorstep.

Even the state of California itself has announced that it is investigating the church's involvement in Proposition 8, which was approved by a vote of 52 percent to 48 percent and, barring a Supreme Court overturn, will ban gay marriage in the state.

There have been no other reports of backlash against other groups that supported Prop 8, notably African-Americans and other churches and religious denominations that turned out in heavy numbers to push through the ban.

Exit polls after the Nov. 4 vote showed that 70 percent of black voters and more than half of Latino voters voted yes on Prop 8. About two-thirds of self-identified Christians supported the ban, and married voters and parents also showed strong support. The Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Church and evangelical groups in the state also urged for a ban on gay marriage.

So why is the Mormon Church the only target?

It's because of the money, says Evan Wolfe, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a New York-based group that supports same-sex marriage.

"The Mormon Church hierarchy led the way on this attack on gay families and the California constitution," Wolfe said. "They provided more than half of the funding. They provided the ground troops and were a major political force in a way that no other group was.

"It's not like there's one centralized voice telling everyone whom to protest. People have their own reactions to what they see with their own eyes, and what they saw here was a $40 million deceptive campaign to take away rights, led by the Mormon Church hierarchy."

Lorri Jean, CEO of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, wrote on the organization's Web site that she doesn't blame African-Americans or minority groups for the passage of Prop. 8.

"We have been critical of all of the out-of-state conservative religious groups that made significant contributions to the campaign, including the Knights of Columbus National Headquarters in Connecticut and Focus on the Family in Colorado. But the truth is that the LDS church leadership in Utah specifically directed its membership to get involved with the Yes campaign in an unprecedented way — both in terms of volunteer time and dollars," Jean wrote.

"The campaign they funded was one of lies and deceit, clearly in violation of the religious tenet of “thou shalt not lie.”

Ron Buckmire, president of the Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition, an organization that organizes African-Americans for gay rights in Southern California, said fewer African-Americans supported the gay-marriage ban than was originally reported -- 57 percent instead of 70.

"People were emotional after Obama being elected and recognizing the ideal that the African American and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community were part of one large progressive alliance that were going to enact change … was not necessarily true," Buckmire said.

"Once they realized that, and that some of the data is not exactly correct and they were actually being hateful to some African-Americans, I think they then focused on the Mormons, the religious people and some Republicans as well."

Rev. Roland Stringfellow, coordinator of the Bay Area Coalition of Welcoming Congregations, a network of gay-friendly religious organizations, said that he has heard of African American individuals being harassed for the passage of Prop 8, but that many are using the Mormon Church as a scapegoat for their anger.

"Many gays and lesbians have been hurt by the church and they see the Mormons as a way of taking out that aggression, not only on the Prop 8 position, but on their life in general," he told

"I think simply it comes down to everyone needing a scapegoat. I think we're seeing that with the Republican Party, where people are pointing fingers at Sarah Palin as to why John McCain lost."

Back in June, soon after the California Supreme Court ruled that a ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional in the state, the Mormon Church sent a letter to members announcing its support of Prop 8, which was designed to overturn the ruling. The church's members subsequently donated millions of dollars to support the Yes on 8 campaign.

According to Californians Against Hate, which lobbied to defeat Prop 8, Mormons gave $25 million of the almost $40 million that groups supporting the initiative spent on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts.

"They did the slickest commercials you've ever seen, and they mostly do it to convince younger people why its OK to be opposed to same sex marriage," Californians Against Hate founder Frank Karger told

Mormon voters themselves had little effect on the ballot initiative's outcome, simply because the Mormon population is small in California. There are only about 750,000 Mormons in the state, about 2 percent of its 38 million residents.

But over 59,000 Mormon families contributed to the Yes on 8 effort, Karger said. "Without the Mormon money it would have been a very different campaign."

Mormons also donated time — walking through California neighborhoods to get voters talking about Prop 8, he said.

In the weeks after Nov. 4, of Gay activist John Aravosis, editor of, called on Hollywood to shun the Sundance Film Festival, held just a few hours' drive from Salt Lake City.

"Anyone who attends Sundance is quite literally funding the enemy," he wrote. Aravosis also called for a boycott of tourism and skiing in the "Hate State of Utah."

California Musical Theatre Artistic Director Scott Eckern, a Mormon and graduate of Brigham Young University, resigned from his position with the Sacramento theater group on Nov. 12 after undergoing pressure from artists who scorned his decision to give $1,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign.

And last week, Californians Against Hate filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that the Mormon Church did not report all of its non-monetary contributions to the campaign.

"I just want to make sure that when they involve themselves in California elections that they play by the rules," Karger said.

"They bused people into California the last three weekends going door to door and out with signs on the major intersects and major highways. It’s a common California roadside activity, but they did it with hundreds and hundreds of people," Karger said.

On Friday, the commission said it would investigate the complaint.

Californians Against Hate also has called on gay-marriage supporters to boycott A-1 Storage facilities around the state because the business's owner gave more than $700,000 to the Yes on 8 cause.

On Nov. 14, Mormon Church leaders issued a statement criticizing the backlash.

"Since the people of California voted to reaffirm the sanctity of traditional marriage between a man and a woman on November 4, 2008, places of worship have been targeted by opponents of Proposition 8 with demonstrations and, in some cases, vandalism," the church's First Presidency wrote.

"Attacks on churches and intimidation of people of faith have no place in civil discourse over controversial issues. People of faith have a democratic right to express their views in the public square without fear of reprisal. Efforts to force citizens out of public discussion should be deplored by people of goodwill everywhere."

But gay activists say they are right to single out the Mormons for the success of California's ballot initiative.

"What is clear in any case is that we did not lose this election because of African Americans," Lorri Jean wrote.

"Even if African Americans had voted for and against Prop 8 in the same proportion as white voters, we still would have lost."