“8: The Mormon Proposition”: Church and State Get Married, But You Can’t!
June 17th, 2008, was a zenith for thousands of gay and lesbian couples. That was the day that the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in that state. That very day, hundreds of couples went to City Hall to “make it official“. Early in Reed Cowan’s new documentary “8: The Mormon Proposition”, we meet one of those couples. They are Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones-- two men who were born into Mormon families. Together six years, their joy and excitement at recalling their happiest of happy days almost bursts off the screen. As one observer points out, however, forces were already conspiring to take that happiness away from them and from the many other Golden State newlyweds. The new marriages were in trouble “before the champagne was even warm”, as one woman states in the movie. The push to pass Proposition 8, a ballot initiative which stated that only a man and a woman could be legally married, was set into motion.
“8: The Mormon Proposition” exposes the involvement of the Mormon Church-- officially, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints-- in a long-running campaign against gays and gay rights (in their own Church and nationwide), cumulating with their all-out push for Proposition 8. Narrated by Dustin Lance Black, Academy-Award winning screenwriter of “Milk”, this fast-moving and lively film packs an emotional wallop, proving that even unshockable theater audiences in 2010 can still be provoked and even shocked by what happens in real life. We learn that the Mormons’ involvement with Prop. 8 was not just about one religious group (rightfully) expressing their theological views. Secret documents are exposed which reveal an organized, calculated, and largely secretive agenda… and an expensive one too, I might add. One of the statements from a Mormon document read “This requires careful calibration.“ Ironically, the Mormons are a group which had been discriminated against themselves throughout American history; perhaps because of that, they knew that presenting their quest as a “Mormon” agenda would not be received positively. Therefore, they formed puppet coalitions which de-emphasized the religious aspect of the initiative to the public. The film points out what came next: The Church commanded money from their members, utilized out-of state-funds ($3 million from Utah), and formed unlikely alliances, most notably with the Catholic Church. (War, as they say, does indeed make strange bedfellows.) This was just the beginning of their efforts. The movie also explores the backdrop behind the Mormon’s decades-long persecution of gays, which continues to thrive largely thanks to their current community leaders. One of them is the boldly and proudly anti-gay State Senator and Mormon bishop Chris Buttars, who declares to the filmmakers, “To me, homosexuality will always be a sexual perversion… and you say that around here now, and everyone goes nuts. But I don’t care.”
It may be naïve of me to still believe that human rights, religion, and marriage equality should never have been about money or politics in the first place. They should be, and have always should have been, about people. “8: The Mormon Proposition“, in addition to being a valuable slice of very recent American history, puts human faces on the issue. We meet Tyler Barrick‘s mother, who is conflicted between her Mormon family beliefs but knows that supporting her son’s equality is the right thing to do. Interestingly but sadly, we also learn that Utah-- whose population is between 41% and 60% Mormon-- has one of the highest suicide rates in the country and even the world, with a high percentage of those suicides being gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or questioning Mormon youth. The movie takes great efforts to put a face on those youths, as well as many of whom were dangerously close to becoming a statistic themselves.
“8: The Mormon proposition” will make you angry, as well it should-- mostly because of the fact that we apparently have thrown the idea of separation of Church and State out the stained glass window. In fact, one Prop 8 protester‘s clever and telling sign reads, “Church and State are Married. Why not me?” Even more appalling is the amount of money spent to promote and legislate discrimination against fellow American citizens. When you think about how much that could have been used for philanthropic causes, it becomes all the more disgraceful. In November 2008, Proposition 8 passed (52/48), but some positive side effects may have actually come from it. As the film points out, Tyler Barrick and Spence Jones went from being just another happy gay couple to being activists for marriage equality. Many more GLBT citizens were called into action as well. The Church of Latter Day Saints was exposed for their actions, and Proposition 8 protests proliferated all over the U.S.-- including Salt Lake City, Utah, where 5,000 people protested. The battle for equality will definitely go on.
After having a limited run in select theaters earlier this month, “8: The Mormon Proposition” is now available on DVD from Wolfe Video. Rent it at www.Netflix.com.