Proposition 8 and its Discontents

An interview by Gregory Van Wagenen

The ballot initiative known as Proposition 8, which effectively modified the constitution of the State of California, was arguably the most contentious issue in North American politics in 2008. On the 5th of November last year, after passing with a three percent margin, the foundation of the state’s legal authority was re-written to mandate that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Below is an interview with James, who is a gay member of the LDS Church. James discusses his views on Proposition 8, and how strong LDS support for the legislation affected his experience in the church.

Gregory: Has your relationship with the LDS Church changed since the Proposition 8 debate? If so, how?

James: The church’s open stance made me feel ostracized. I felt voiceless in a sea of open hostility and ignorance.

I am a strong believer in separation of church and state. Religion to me is a personal matter. I do not feel comfortable pressing my personal beliefs on other people nor do I feel comfortable when other people force their views, religious or otherwise, on me. My relationship with God is a personal one – as is anyone’s… when I pray to God I feel a love and sense of acceptance greater than I have ever felt. God created and loves me as I am; so when I go to church and am told that “those people are wrong” and “those people need to be saved” and “those people are waging war against God by defacing marriage,” I do not see it.

I know I am gay. I did not ask or choose this and I could reject God altogether, but I love the Creator. The message of the Church is perfect but right now many of the members are not. The message of Christ’s love for mankind is tarnished with a message of “God loves you unless…” The comments and views of many of the members put a wedge between me and God. So I have stopped attending. I still maintain my relationship with God and since I do not feel comfortable in my Church I have left it.

There was a network of bloggers that helped me stay in the Church longer than I would have. And it also helped that there was a fellow member who was struggling under the burden of the same cross I was. It helped to have someone to confide in. At my low points he would build me up and in his I would build him up. After moving across the country it became harder though. With no one to share that struggle with it became impossible to stay in.

Gregory: How comfortable do you feel vocalizing your position on the issue of sexuality within the church? Do you feel silenced or encouraged to speak?

James: Usually I wasn’t the one who would bring up the subject, but rather other members. I would try to chime in with something that leaned in favor of gay rights or issues but was bulldozed down and looked at as simply short of the Truth. I even tried to mention the fact that many teenage suicides result when young people cannot love themselves because their religion or society makes it hard for them to do so. It is as if you have to change a part of you to fit in. As if you are a puzzle piece. And if you don’t fit in with the cookie cutter image then you are tossed out.

Many men even marry women just to stay in the Church, but can you structure a marriage on a lie? Is that what God would want? Is it better to lie and fit in than to accept who you are and love yourself? Many people in my last branch [congregation] said that the Church was being persecuted [for its support for Prop 8]… but I feel that word is thrown around too loosely. This made me closet my opinion. In a sense I felt censored by the sentiment and clanging opinion of my fellow members.

Gregory: Were you ever troubled by the fact that religious leaders seemed to be giving political advice in a spiritual context?

James: Of course. There are so many other pertinent issues that need to be faced here and abroad. People need to be brought together not torn apart. And that is just what happened to many families in the church over that. If we are going to be a Church of Christ we need to accept people for all their “faults” and love them. But if Christian churches continue to make this a wedge-issue, more and more people, gay or not, are going to further marginalize them.

Gregory: If there were one message you could send to the wider world about your experience as a gay Mormon, what would it be?

James: I would like to say that I feel both sides were in the wrong in California (and not just there but seemingly abroad). Christian and Gay militancy are much the same. Both are binary: closeted or liberated, damned or saved; both demand emotional showboating and almost narcissistic public displays of emotion and both seek to turn private lives into public crusades or moral right. And both are impatient to the quirks and kinks of human behavior. There is no middle ground and in a country as diverse as this there must be.

I would also like to add that the Church has enriched my life, and the principles I glean from the Gospel like charity and love I make a point to act on. I follow Jesus’ example of universal love and I follow what the Bible so clearly states – “Judge not lest ye be judged”. I have met many a good person in the Church who I love. Even though a few of them no longer love me after I shared with them a certain aspect of who I am.