On Tuesday, angry over the extraordinary amount of money the Utah-based Mormon Church has given to Prop 8, the ballot initiative that would "eliminate right of same-sex couples to marry," Rick Jacobs, chair of the
Courage Campaign Issues Committee, and the Rev. Eric Lee, President of the California Chapters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, went to the Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Westwood, California to deliver a petition asking the church to stop interfering in a California election.
As of Friday, the Mormon Church had contributed $10,532,607.58 according to Mormonsfor8.com.
(Click any pic to embiggen)
Last Thursday, the Courage Campaign launched an online petition drive to sign a petition to ask Church of Latter-day Saints President Thomas Monson to cease funding Prop 8 and to denounce what Jacobs called a "blackmail" letter sent out by the Yes on 8 campaign's Mark Jansson, a Mormon, to try to intimidate donors to the campaign trying to defeat the measure.
"We need to stop the Mormon Church from pushing their marriage views on Californians through the ballot box. The Mormon Church is not welcome to impose its theology on the people of California. We are galled that the Mormon Church would stoop to lying in advertisements and condoning blackmail." He called such intimidation conduct "reprehensible."
"Anytime one group of people are denied the rights afforded to another group, it is a violation of civil rights. In this nation, we enjoy religious freedom. That means no one has the right to impose a narrow theological view on relationships upon every body in every situation. Our nation is poised to achieve the dream Dr. King spoke about. Yet here in California, interests that present themselves as Christian rally for hatred and division. I oppose Proposition 8 because it seeks to create a permanent second class of citizens, something this country cannot afford."
Jacobs and Lee, however, were stymied in their attempt to deliver the petition, signed by 16,935 people.
Not only did guards at the main entrance to the huge church misdirect reporters before the news conference, when Jacobs and Lee attempted to enter the main gates - where a sign said "Visitors Welcome" - the guard told them to go to a smaller church five blocks away where "they" were waiting to accept the petition. Assuming that meant Church officials, Jacobs and Lee, with a few reporters in tow, walked to a back entrance.
There they were met by Mel, a Spanish-looking woman who said she was a Mormon, but repeatedly said she was a spokesperson for ProtectMarriage.com, the Yes on 8 campaign and would accept the petition on behalf of the coalition - not the church. She would not give her last name.
Jacobs insisted that a representative from the church accept the petition. When it became clear that wasn't going to happen, they started to leave.
A reporter who had been diverted by the guard stopped them for an interview. At that point, a tall man who had earlier scampered away returned to hand Mel a cell phone call. But Rev. Lee had turned and called out - 'Hey, I know that guy. He's a Mormon."
Apparently feeling trapped by etiquette before reporters, the tall man, who would not give his name, shook Lee's hand but would not accept the petition, either.
Mel, however, did answer some questions posed by this reporter and an NPR reporter. She said she was unaware of any fears of "Armageddon" should Prop 8 fail to pass. But failure would have major implications.
Here's the exchange:
"I think if Prop. 8 fails we'll begin to see a different kind of society - I think a society in which we're not familiar with and bringing up children in a society that we're not familiar with. And I think that has implications on the family - it has huge implications on the family," Mel said.
What about religious implications?
"I think the religious implications are that we will potentially be not able to have the religious rights that we've been guaranteed," she said. "So I think we have real issues with understanding all of the implications. I don't think it's completely clear to anybody what this is going to look like 50 years from now. I think, based on what we know, we have to have a position and be motivated by that position to act and to work.
So you don't see this as taking away any existing rights of a minority?
"It's not taking away a right of a exiting minority," Mel said. "The right has never been for an existing minority. The right has always been defined for a man and a woman. It got changed, it was overturned by individuals who felt it was unconstitutional. Is that not correct?"
No, this reporter responded. The California Supreme Court ruled marriage was a fundamental right that had been denied to same sex couples and belonged to same sex couples and in their decision the court declared that, in fact, sexual orientation was a "suspect class' - meaning gays were a minority. This would be taking away an existing right of a minority if Prop 8 passes.
"Well, I think that marriage, as it's been defined over thousands of years has a right to remain as it is," Mel said, "as do people have a right to believe they can change that, if they want. I'm fighting for what I believe to be true and they are fighting for what they believe they do not have - I'm fighting for what I believe I do have."
But gays have that now, this reporter noted. The right now exists....according to the Supreme Court - for gays and lesbians to marry. That's the existing right. So passage of prop 8 would take away that right.
"Yes, I understand that," Mel said.
But you don't agree?
"I don't agree. That's why I'm here for the coalition," Mel said.
The NPR reporter asked if she was that what happened in California might have a domino effect beyond California's borders.
"I think everybody is," Mel said. "Yes, California has definitely been known to have that effect on the current popular opinion. So yes, I do that could be something that could potentially happen."
So this is a way of establishing a parameter? NPR asked.
"Well, I think each state has to be aware of what it is they want and I think they'll look to California to see what's happened."
Jacobs later said,
"We tried to deliver a letter to President-Prophet Monson, but no one at the Temple would accept the letter. This just shows how secretive and fearful the Church is. It is willing to dump millions of dollars from its members into a ballot measure that takes rights from me and others, but it refuses to come out from behind its walls. Why is the Mormon Church afraid of society?"
Jacobs said the Courage Campaign would try to deliver the petition in Utah.
Before the confrontation with Mel and the mystery Mormon, I interviewed Rev. Lee about the African American historical experience with the Mormon Church and the Black clergy's support of Prop 8. Rev. Lee started by talked about his "conversation" on the issue of marriage equality.
Here's that exchange:
EL: "Well, it's been a long process. Ten or 15 years ago, I was wrestling with the issue on equality of treatment and the biblical stand on homosexuality. I think we have to leave the judging to God. And people are people and one of the wonderful aspects of God is that he gives people free choice and when you start denying people rights because of choices they make - then it's fundamentally wrong.
KO: Are you saying you think homosexuality is a choice?
EL: No - the issue is about marriage. I'm not talking about the homosexuality aspect of it. I'm talking about the choice to be with who you want to be with. That's what I'm dealing with. I have to believe that sexual orientation is legitimate - and I just don't think we judge on issues like that. We leave that to god.
KO: What do you say to the African American church leaders - such as Rev Frank Pierce - who support Prop 8?
EL: I would remind - particulalry the African American clergy - that the people who are driving this fight for Proposition 8 and to deny the civil rights of one group of people are the same people who considered African Americans inferior and used the Bible to justify slavery, Jim Crow segregation, discrimination. It's the same Church - the Mormon Church that did not allow blacks into the priesthood and did not allow them into Mormon heaven. So I think we have to consider the source - and so when you look at the source, it should automatically cause a red flag to be raised.
KO: I am not up to speed on the background between Blacks and Mormon Church -
EL: Well, the Mormon Church had in their doctrine that African Americans were inferior - also the conservative Christians considered that 50 and 60 years ago and tried to biblically justify it by, I think, the curse of Hamm.
And so it's amazing to me how all of a sudden - and when there's another scapegoat - that African Americans so quickly jump upon who were their oppressors to join in oppressing another people. I think that one of the mistakes that we're making is to frame this discussion in a religious context when it's clearly a civil issue, to me.
I see that there are three components to this issue:
- the religious or theological component;
- the civil rights component - and when you talk about separation of church and state, that that has to be maintained;
- and I think there is a homophobic component, which people are not dealing with.
So we need to make sure that we clearly understand that this is a civil rights issue. And not to impose a theological understanding of what is a civil rights issue.
KO: Yeah - I was surprised to see Rick Warren come out in support of Prop 8. I mean - I thought he was trying to put ideology on the shelf and find common ground around fighting AIDS. That's what Phill Wilson got from TD Jakes, too - because people are dying.
EL: When you see an absence of clergy - particularly the African American clergy - who are absent when it comes to - 70% of all new AIDS cases affecting black women and you don't hear anything about it; when you see an absence of clergy when 50--60% of black and brown boys are dropping out of school, going into gangs and into the prison industrial complex - where are the clergy on those issues?
Where are the clergy when you're talking about 90 million people in this country who are in poverty - barely surviving? Where are the clergy on issues of quality of life for all people? And yet you see them come out on this issue?
I think we're missing an understanding of what the scriptures talk about - providing quality to life and dignity to God's people - and so the church is wrong on this. They are definitely wrong on this issue and hopefully,God will be the final judge for all of us.