Upon hearing the news of the Supreme Court's Proposition 8 ruling I did what many other reporters did: I picked up the phone and called LDS Church headquarters to get the official reaction from the Mormons. They declined an interview but instead emailed me a statement which was later posted on their website. It reads in part:
"Regardless of the court decision, the Church remains irrevocably committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which for thousands of years has proven to be the best environment for nurturing children."
In written statements and directives to Mormons globally, the modern LDS Church has repeatedly stated that marriage is between "a man and a woman." This position is curious considering Mormons' infamous history of plural marriage and the struggles they faced because of it. For many generations, church members were persecuted and singled out because of their belief that the strongest families resulted from one man, multiple wives, and as many children as they could possibly produce. Brigham Young, one of the early presidents of the church, had 55 wives and fathered 56 biological children (although these facts are glaringly absent from Mr. Young's biographical information section on the LDS website). Today, however, the LDS Church teaches that "for thousands of years" a man and a woman have been the "best environment for nurturing children."
Undoubtedly the most visible example of polygamy in the United States, for decades Mormons completely ignored or sidestepped federal laws that prohibited plural marriage. In the early days of the church, Mormons believed polygamy was inspired by God and was the righteous way to live. They held steadfast to the gospel of Jesus Christ which they believe was restored by their polygamist founder and prophet Joseph Smith. Church members felt misunderstood by the mainstream and just wanted to live their lives the way God intended, without the persecution or judgment from outsiders who didn't understand their alternative form of marriage or their beliefs.
Instead of acceptance the early Mormons faced harassment, mockery, and intolerance. Ultimately members of the church left the Midwest and made their way across the plains on foot, in covered wagons, and pushing handcarts. In 1847 the first group of Mormons arrived in the Salt Lake Valley where they could finally live freely (and where official LDS Church headquarters remain today). The settling and development of Salt Lake City meant church members could finally worship in peace and create large, polygamist Mormon families.
Eventually, pressure from the Federal Government mounted and the 1887 passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act meant that Mormons faced asset seizure, denied statehood and disincorporation as a result of their failure to comply with Federal law deeming polygamy illegal. In 1890 the Supreme Court upheld that decision. But then something miraculous happened just five months later: LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff said he received a revelation from Jesus Christ that polygamy was to end immediately. Finally, Mormon-settled Utah Territory would become a state -- on the condition that the state constitution clearly disavowed the practice of plural marriage. While these events may seem impossibly coincidental, Mormons believe it is all part of God's plan.
Fast forward more than 100 years later and today The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints says it has nearly 15 million members worldwide. In an evolution that never could have been foreseen by early polygamist church members, the Mormon Church -- the most infamous example of non-traditional marriage in this country -- has now become the poster child for "traditional marriage." Today they hold fast to a 1995 decree called "Family: A Proclamation to the World," which states that families should consist of one man, one woman, and children conceived only within the legal confines of marriage.
Outside the LDS Church, Mormons have flexed their political muscle by raising millions of dollars and mobilizing their community to try to make sure gay marriage goes back into the closet. The most prominent example was their enormous 2008 push when monies from LDS sources totaling more than $20 million came pouring in to California to ensure that Proposition 8, banning gay marriage, successfully passed.
But in the aftermath of now-defunct Prop 8 and despite their heavyweight status of raising millions and mobilizing members to influence voter turnout on election night, the sentiment from many Mormons is that their rights are once again being infringed upon. The same exclusionary tactics they once spent generations fighting in order to simply live undisturbed, without the influence of outside groups, the LDS Church is now perpetrating. By releasing statements like the post-Prop 8 statement and a similar statement reaffirming traditional marriage in late March, the Mormons continue to marginalize gay families and individuals, just as they themselves felt marginalized for so long.
The LDS Church wouldn't comment on whether they plan to fund any additional state marriage initiatives nor would they detail their plans to continue fighting for what they claim to have always considered "standard doctrine of the church." When I pressed church officials with more questions about DOMA and Prop 8 I was told "there isn't much appetite to move beyond the Church's official statement at this point."
Regardless of the opinions or intentions of the LDS Church, one thing is no longer up for debate: California's Prop 8 is history and the millions of dollars spent to pass it have gone up in flames.
Mormons believe that their God is ultimately in charge of everything, political and otherwise. And it's a good thing they do -- because if they continue trying to reverse marriage equality that is now federally recognized and legal in 30% of the U.S., they will need no less than an act of God to stop it.
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