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Laurence Watts

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Should We Copy the Mormons?

Posted: 10/31/2011 12:25 pm

For nine months, beginning in November 2008, I travelled through all 50 U.S. states. I found America's diversity fascinating. There were retirement states, flyover states, blue-collar states and many more besides. As a gay man, and since California's Proposition 8 passed at the beginning of my trip thanks to a campaign significantly underwritten by the Mormon Church, one of the most interesting states for me was Utah, the Beehive State.

According to Robert Jeffress, the evangelical Christian who recently endorsed Rick Perry, Mormonism is a cult. Disregarding that label, its members certainly represent a sizeable minority in America, given that they number roughly 6.1 million. Interestingly, that number is significantly lower than the April 2011 Williams Institute's estimate for the number of gay Americans: 9 million.

Given the respective gay and Mormon populations, when do you think the first Mormon Senator was elected to Congress? The answer is 1902, six years after Utah became a state. His name was Reed Smoot, and he served as Utah's Senator for 30 years. Next question: when was the first openly gay Senator elected? Give up? Well, we haven't had one yet. If Tammy Baldwin wins Wisconsin next year, it could happen in 2012, 110 years after Mr Smoot.

The difference in political power between gay men and women and Mormons stems from the U.S. state system and the concentration of Mormons in Utah. Approximately 1.9 million Mormons live in Utah, where they collectively make up some 60 to 70 percent of the population. That block vote enables Mormons, collectively, to control state affairs.

Utah sends two senators to the United States Senate; they are currently Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Mike Lee. Both are Mormons. In addition, Utah currently sends three Representatives to Congress: Rep. Rob Bishop, Rep. Jim Matheson and Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Again, all three are Mormons. Utah's current Governor is Gary Herbert. He's a Mormon, too. In fact, in 2002, when Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics, the Chicago Tribune reported that Utah's entire Supreme Court, 90 percent of its state legislature and 80 percent of its state and federal judges were Mormons. Put simply, Utah is the Mormon state.

Why is the above important? Well, while many in the gay community see the Mormon Church as an enemy, it's also possible that it, and more specifically Utah, could be a blueprint for how the gay community can secure equality. If there really are 9 million gay Americans, and historic estimates would put the number higher still, then collectively, we are bigger than the populations of all but eight of America's states. If we decided en masse to holiday in Wyoming, we would outnumber the local population 17 to 1.

Put simply, if we all, or a substantial number of us, moved to a sparsely populated state, we would guarantee ourselves congressional representation, and we'd be able to pass favourable state legislation at will. Same-sex marriage? Done. A state-wide Employment Non-Discrimination Act? Easy. A Hate-Crimes Act? Why not. State Attorney General-led legal challenges to Federal laws like DOMA? No problem at all.

As a community we're already used to packing our bags and flying the nest. Ask anyone born in the Midwest. Upon reaching adulthood, most of us head for the bright lights of New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami or some other big city. Is that part of the problem right now? Politically, are we spreading ourselves too thin? California was meant to be a gay-friendly state, but in 2008 a majority of the electorate chose to amend the state constitution to define marriage as being between only a man and a woman. Do we need to be "more Mormon" in our thinking? Do we need to identify our very own Rainbow State?

I'm sure some of you will be able to picture a utopia where every day is like Pride and every mall escalator is a conveyor belt of potential hook-ups, where the state capital is renamed The Emerald City and the state motto is "never wear the same shirt twice." Others will be aghast at what I'm suggesting. For them, what I'm describing is their idea of a nightmare. While it's easy to label the latter group as self-haters, the fundamental point underlining their position could well be: how can gay men and women win acceptance by hiding away together in our own state?

It's a good point, but a counterargument could be that real life just doesn't work like that. Demographic concentrations exist because people generally like to be surrounded by what they see as like-minded people. That's why there's a large Jewish community in New York and a large Cuban-American community in Florida, and why Christians live in the Bible belt. The effect of these concentrations also explains why Israeli security and the Cuban embargo are such important issues for politicians. Politicians can't hope to carry New York or Florida without having the "right" opinions on these topics. Likewise, a politician hoping to carry a hypothetical Rainbow State would have to come out in favour of equality.

I confess I've written this piece half in jest. At the end of the day, the gay community lacks the organisation and will of a global church, not to mention its tax-exempt status. Contrary to what the right would have people believe, there is no gay agenda. If there were, we would all be living in Delaware (population 900,000). Perhaps because of this, ours will be a harder fight than that of the Mormons, a group of people who have a history of persecution to match our own. Maybe, however, we will gain widespread acceptance more quickly than they will because of a refusal to hide away.

 

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