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Caught in the Crosshairs of Proposition 8
January 5th, 2009

Angry activists target Utah's economy. Should we be worried?

by Jacob Hodgen

Part one 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?

If Utah is the beehive state, then its workers may have good cause to be in a state of alarm.

On November 7th, a group of protestors marched on downtown Salt Lake City. They carried colorful signs and emotionally-charged banners. This might seem like business as usual for Temple Square, but let me remind you how this group was different: there were 3,500 of them--and they were angry.

Prop. 8
Protesters at an LDS Temple.

The backlash against LDS involvement in California's controversial Proposition 8 has triggered more than just debate over the morality of gay marriage or the ethics of legislating against it. This tension has metamorphosed into something that has many local Utahns nervous: a battle for Utahns' pocketbooks. As the backlash against LDS involvement in Proposition 8 crescendos across the country, angry activists are looking for a way to financially punish those they feel are responsible through massive boycotts against Utah businesses and litigation against the LDS church. You may not have felt their full wrath yet, but just wait--it's coming.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few months, you know that Proposition 8 successfully reversed a previous decision by the California Supreme Court and now defines civil marriage as only between a man and women. What brings Utah into the picture is that many activist groups blame the LDS church and its members for the victory.

Comprising only two percent of the population, Mormon voters in California had little sway themselves. What they did have was massive amounts of money and well-organized volunteers. One reportestimates that 59,000 LDS families donated to the campaign to promote Proposition 8. Fred Karger, founder of the group Californians Against Hate, claims, "Without the Mormon money, [Proposition 8] would have been a very different campaign."

No stranger to controversy or massive boycotts, Karger is one of many activist leaders who now calls for a nationwide embargo on Utah goods and services. "If people stand in our way, there'll be consequences--economic consequences." John Aravosis, editor of the popular americablog.com, shares this bitter sentiment: "They just took marriage away from 20,000 couples and made their children bastards. You don't do that and get away with it." He now campaigns for skiers to skip Utah resorts this season and urges Hollywood to turn its back on the Sundance Film Festival. His rhetoric is that of a calculated strike: "There's a movement afoot and large donors are involved who are very interested in organizing a campaign, because I do not believe in frivolous boycotts. The main focus is going to be going after the Utah brand. At this point, honestly, we're going to destroy the Utah brand. It is a hate state." Ironically, Aravosis is not including a boycott of any California industries, since he claims that Californians "are the victims and the Mormons are the persecutors."

Utah businesses are not the only ones worried about the ramifications of a major boycott against Utah. Salt Lake City state senator Scott McCoy, who is a Democrat and is openly gay, is concerned that this will only make matters worse. "I would rather have folks from all over the country stand in solidarity with us [. . .] rather than build a wall around Utah and say to hell with anyone inside because you are all suspect." He is particularly worried that an embargo would increase already extant animosity toward the local gay community. "I don't think that it is the way to go. People coming here brings outside ideas and diversity and helps to broaden peoples' minds, which is exactly what we need."

The industries of Utah are not the only target of outraged activists; several organizations are now preparing litigation that calls into question the tax-exempt status of the LDS church. After receiving complaints, the California Fair Political Practices Commission is now beginning its own inquiry as to whether or not the LDS church violated any laws in its support of Proposition 8. One watchdog group that condemns the LDS church's actions claims its involvement is in direct contradiction to its own teachings and points to what they feel is an unambiguous passage of LDS scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 134:9, which reads, "We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied."

Did the LDS church violate its tax exempt status this fall? The vitriolic Mormons Stole Our Rights website thinks so. They point out that according to the IRS 501(c)(3), a church may not hold tax-exempt status, "if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation." This is a tricky issue, but gay-rights activists probably shouldn't get their hopes too high; the LDS church doesn't just have the means to maintain a crack legal team, it has it own law school.

The bottom line is that even though the vote is over, this controversy is just heating up. One Salt Lake City protest organizer said that he was actually glad that Proposition 8 passed: "I would like to thank the [LDS Church] for what they've done. They have helped awaken this spirit in the gay community. For way too long, we've been complacent in our own rights." The battle, it seems, is only going to get more fierce as tempers flare; instead of just chanting in favor of gay rights, Los Angeles protesters gathered around the local LDS temple and shouted "Mormon Scum" and bore banners that read "No More Mr. Nice Gay." Another protester summed up his frustration with a solemn promise: "What you are seeing today is the birth of a movement. We should have got nasty a long time ago. I'm not going to be polite any more. [. . .] I don't care if it's people's religion. I'm going to stand up and fight it."

What does this mean for you? Well, that depends. If you're a greeter at Wal-Mart, then probably not much. However, if you are involved in the Utah tourism industry, or any local business that supports it, which--let's face it--is nearly every other industry, you may have to bundle up extra tight this winter. You just might have more to weather than the cold.

Reader Comments

from Jeff d'Argy

You know I do believe that to each their own. I could care less that gay people want to get married. In the end its not going to affect me.

I am going to say to everyone that has a problem with Prop 8 and the reversal. 59,000 family's have spoken in the state of California. Not under the direction of any church but of their own freedom of speech. If this affects only 20,000 couples, there is a huge gap of voters. So people raise your arms, sit tight because 20,000 couples (40,000 individuals ) should be going up against 59,000 Family's. I believe the math has spoken for it self.

From Joshua Smith

The article is well written and informative. I know Mormons keep bibles on their shelves and do not read them. But if they did... They would understand this about homosexuality, "Because of their sexual immorality God has given men into the arms of men and women into the arms of women" If people want to sin God gives them over to it and sin gives birth to death. So they will get what they deserve and everyone else will be hurt as well because of it. Propositions and ballot measure are just symptoms of much deeper problems.

Response to Joshua's comments from Bryan N.

The passage that Joshua Smith quotes doesn't sound like the King James Version Bible (capitalization included) that this Latter-day Saint and millions of others take off their shelves and read. I do agree with what he's saying on the morality issue, but he's wrong about LDS not reading the Bible.

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