Exploring the Emotional Consequences of Proposition 8
January 18th, 2009
The "winners" and "losers" of Proposition 8 may have more in common than you think.
by Jacob Hodgen
Part two in our ongoing series, Caught in the Crosshairs of Proposition 8.
Part One: Angry Activists Target Utah Economy: Should We Be Worried?
Part Two: Exploring the Emotional Consequences of Proposition 8
Part Three: The Great Sundance Boycott: Fact of Fiction?
At the premier of his controversial HBO series Big Love last Wednesday, American actor and producer Tom Hanks publicly denounced the LDS church and its political involvement in a rather bizarre statement, "the truth is a lot of Mormons gave a lot of money to the church to make Prop-8 happen. There are a lot of people who feel that is un-American, and I am one of them."
Whether you agree with his politics or not, Hanks' apparent lack of historical awareness is stunning. First off, his statement reveals that he has not learned from the recent mistakes of the notoriously boneheaded Michele Bachmann. Worse, though, is that he seems to be in denial of the sad, yet undeniable fact that rabid ethnocentrism and, conversely, militant xenophobia is timeless and certainly just as American as apple pie. Hanks' views reflects what appears to be a steady trend towards dogmatism on both sides of the spectrum.
While a new ceasefire in Gaza may finally be on the horizon, the fiery rhetoric encompassing the politics of gay-rights shows no signs of abatement. As activists from both sides try to contort logic, spirituality, and history in their favor, one aspect of the debate is frequently neglected in the whirlwind of partisanship: the individual, human element.
For this week's contribution to our series, I solicited the experiences from people on both sides of the debate and asked, politics aside, how has Proposition 8 affected your life? Based on the answers I received, it seems that those on either side might have more in common than Tom Hanks might think.
Trevor Reed is graduate of Brigham Young University and is an accomplished musician and composer. He currently attends graduate school at Columbia University in New York. However, as an active member of the LDS church, he is now part of a minority that is not always entirely welcome.
I sat down with Trevor to ask about his experience transitioning from one of the most conservative communities in the country to one of the most liberal in the wake of Proposition 8.
Some colleagues have left me with the impression that they see me as a bigot, fanatic, or at the very least, short-sighted, simply because of my religious beliefs.
After hearing about a university meeting on gender identity and religion, Trevor decided to attend, only to find out that he was the only person representing a perspective including organized religion--not just his church, he was the only representative from any church.
The topic showcased how diverse the gay community must be--a handful of participants talked genuinely and personally about being "excluded" by Prop. 8. And then there were others whose disgust for organized religion preempted any affect of their professed homosexuality. One of the latter opened the discussion with sarcastic and pointed remarks against the LDS church, specifically its leaders, and many others joined in.
This was certainly not the kind of tolerance towards diversity he had hoped for from an ostensibly progressive school. However, Trevor reports that the confrontation ended with a bittersweet victory of mutual understanding.
After a while, I revealed my identity and spoke out for the [LDS] church. I told them that LDS church members believe that marriage between a man and a woman is central to each person's purpose and happiness during and after this life, and that gender is part of our eternal identity. A few minutes later the conversation had completely changed--it wasn't about retaliation but about reconciliation. "You know, I wasn't part of what happened down at Lincoln Center." "Me neither," someone else explained. Being LDS and working in the arts has become more complicated after Prop. 8. And when I explain my views on the definition of marriage, people rarely have anything to say against them but, "I wish we didn't even have to deal with things like this." I couldn't agree more.
On the other side of the issue is Scott Brateng, who also lives in New York. Scott received dual degrees in Journalism and Drama at New York University and now has a successful career as a professional actor. He is openly gay, and though he otherwise does not have any particular connection to Utah, he told me how the Beehive State has recently become a part of his life, and that he is not particularly pleased about it. "I'll admit it," Scott explains, "in the weeks leading up to Nov. 4th, I was 'audacious.' I had been swept up in Obama-ism." However, the passage of Proposition 8 tempered any joy Scott felt on the night of his candidate's victory.
I had heard about the Church of LDS funneling funds into anti-Prop 8 campaigns in California, but never believed that the people of the state would be influenced by these ads, especially the ones that falsely played on the worst fears of many Americans: the welfare of their children. I was angry and disappointed. This was a night when I should be celebrating a new direction for our country and instead I was feeling a sense of loss and defeat. For the next several weeks the gay community protested the passage of Prop 8 and in particular the Mormon Church. Tens of thousands of us marched outside the Mormon temple in Manhattan. Others lobbied to take away the LDS church's tax-exempt status.
Scott is not mad at Utahns or the LDS church specifically, but he certainly feels differently towards them than he did a few months ago. He is now motivated to seek national change.
As a young gay man I have never felt I had to fight for anything. I came of age in a time and place where being gay has never been an issue that has harmed me. Prop 8 has shown me that this isn't the case everywhere in this country. I think many in my community in New York and around the country have been woken up to this fact by the passage of Prop 8 and the realization that there are still people who hate and fear us. So, thank you Latter Day Saints for spreading "H8." You have shown us that we still have ground to gain to achieve equal rights. Arm yourselves. We're bringing the battle not just to you, but to the entire country.
It seems Americans on both side of the issue are now facing similar crises of anticipation and are asking very similar questions: will people respect me and my beliefs, even if they disagree? Will I be harassed or threatened in the workplace? Will I be welcome in other in communities outside of my own? These and others questions are ones that Utahns in particular will also face as they seek a place for themselves, not just as citizens of their individual communities, but as citizens of a diverse nation and world.
The next issue in Caught in the Crosshairs of Proposition 8
Part Three: The Great Sundance Boycott: Facts and Myths
Photos by David Shankbone and 1Flatworld
My wife and I were married in July. Our marriage created a family of five; her two boys, and my little girl. The Mormon church has now made my marriage one of a very few, and furthermore, would like to retroactivly dissolve it. I, and my wife, desire a strong union that gives our children a firm sense of family. LDS has no right to interfere in that attempt. Can I respect you and your beliefs, my Mormon neighbors? A better question is; Do you deserve respect? No, you do not. Are you welcome in my home? You are trying to destroy my home, and no, you are not welcome. Will I harrass LDS members in my workplace? Why should I refrain? Prop8 has damaged me and mine. Do not expect me to be polite and gracious amidst the ruins of my familie's happiness. Who do you think your fooling?
Really interesting piece. I like your writing a lot. I think you pulled very interesting perspectives from both Trevor and Scott. I think you have done well showing how Mormons, particularly those outside of Utah may end up feeling more ostracized by the poilitcal actions of the Church (which they may or may not agree with), where as the much of the church itself is centered in Utah (though its members are very spread out) where their actions are not surprising or deemed unwelcome.
One question I always have, and yes I know it comes off as seeming anti-religion, which isn't intentional but would only be asked by someone who doesn't actively partake in organized religion, is why any particular church feels the need to press their case in the political arena, rather than convincing people through their moral teachings and by living as examples within their communities? I know many religions contain tenants of evangelism, and spreading the word, and I wouldn't want to in anyway stunt or inhibit that right, but I question from a legal/political standpoint why any church (in this case LDS has taken the lead), needs their particular viewpoints represented in the secular law.
If Mormon teachings are clear on the matter of gender and marriage, fantastic! then Mormons should abide by those teachings and those of church leaders or if they disagree, have a discussion within their own community as to what and why they believe certain things. I just don't see the connect between the Religious view and the need to support secular legislation/executive orders/amendments that codify those beliefs into laws that effect non-believers as well. I mention Mormons, but my questions extend to Catholics (my family's background) and all faiths Christian or otherwise. If God or whoever doesn't want you doing something, why don't we leave it up to him/her/it to do the punishing?