Review: 8: The Mormon Proposition

(Dirty secret of the Prop 8 campaign #2 — also not mentioned in the documentary: around 70% of African-American voters in California – approximately 0% of which are Mormon – voted “Yes” on Prop 8.  If gay marriage is really a “civil rights” issue, shouldn’t the minority group most sensitive to civil rights issues be of greater support?   Or perhaps many African-Americans are offended that the real civil rights violations they endured in earlier decades is considered comparable to the civil rights “violation” of the government calling officially recognized same-sex relationships “domestic partnerships” rather than “marriages”.   However, I expect the Pope will convert to Mormonism before any self-respecting liberals start protesting outside a traditionally black church, right?)

8: The Mormon Proposition confuses the “civil rights” issue even further by bringing up Mormon polygamy three or four times during the course of the film (Tyler himself has polygamist ancestors who were persecuted for their beliefs).  The point 8 is trying to make (I believe) is that it’s hypocritical for Mormons to persecute those with “alternative ideas” about marriage when they were persecuted themselves for the same reason.

But…wait a minute:  polygamy is illegal, today.  Should it be?  The government does not recognize any such “civil right” to marry more than one person, even among consenting adults.  If the lack of legalized gay marriage “violates the civil rights” of gays, doesn’t the lack of legalized polygamy also violate the civil rights of polygamists?  (We should note that, unlike with gay couples, the government actually storms the homes of polygamists and literally tears husbands away from wives and children from their parents).

And yet, the majority of gay marriage supporters do not believe polygamy should be legal — what conclusion are we supposed to draw from that?  What exactly is the “civil right” of Americans in regard to marriage, according to gay marriage supporters?  Is it a “civil right” to be able to marry absolutely anyone you want, and have the government recognize that relationship, or not?  If not — and the government DOES have the right to restrict the definition of marriage to exclude polygamy according to gay marriage supporters — then there’s nothing wrong in principle with restricting it in other ways as well?

If 8 was intended to convince skeptics that gay marriage is a civil right and is a necessity, vague and contradictory ideas about what is a civil right and what isn’t, aren’t going to work.

Mormons: The Faceless, Mindless Horde

It is a fact that LDS attitudes towards gays in general need some adjustments (more on this later…), however 8‘s treatment of Mormons is laughably biased and dishonest.   8 works hard to depict gays as real human beings with feelings, rather than stereotypes — which makes it ironic (and hypocritical) when it portrays all Mormons as exactly the opposite.

There are a total of zero (0) active, faithful Mormons depicted in 8 in a sympathetic manner.  You would never know from 8 that a large number of faithful Mormons were conflicted on Proposition 8 from the beginning, with many of them voting (and campaigning) against it.  You would never know from 8 that many famous Mormons — Harry Reid, Steve Young, Bill Marriott — spoke out against Prop 8 publicly.  There’s no hint that many faithful Mormons created activist groups and websites against Prop 8.  There’s no hint that many faithful Mormons even left the Church over Prop 8 — even though you would think that would be a natural fit in the film’s narrative.  In 8′s view, apparently, the only good Mormon is a dead former Mormon…

8 does provide a handful of former Mormons — all directly labeled “Former Mormon” — but the closest it gets to having a “believing” Mormon comment on the issue in a sympathetic manner is Carol Lynn Pearson, author of No More Goodbyes: Circling The Wagon Around Our Gay Loved Ones, and active in bridging gaps in the faithful Mormon community through her writing.

Instead of a nuanced and complete view of LDS opinion on Prop 8, 8 portrays all Mormons as mindless drones who are blindly obedient to every commandment of their prophet.  We get comments from talking heads like, “when the Church speaks, it’s like God speaking.”, or “simple requests from the Church are taken as ‘commands’ by Mormons.” And another saying, “the ‘request’ to volunteer for Prop 8 was like code — they [the Mormons] got the message.” Not a hint that any active Mormon, let alone a LOT of them, didn’t believe “God was speaking” when the campaign began.

The idea that Mormons were unified on the matter is laughable for anyone with any amount of experience in the Church — obviously the filmmakers of 8 didn’t spend any time reading any LDS group blogs between May and November 2008.   Even Carol Lynn Pearson — who should know better — says that “it takes a brave spirit to say this did not come from God.” (And yet…so many of them did.  Not that 8 acknowledges their existence…)

It’s mind-blowing that Cowen and Greenstreet felt like ignoring (and essentially insulting) the Latter-Day Saints who actually supported and were sympathetic to their cause.  However, acknowledging their existence would have disrupted the narrative that faithful Mormons are always blindly obedient to what the prophets say and don’t think for themselves.

8 shares some quotes about homosexuality from past LDS prophets and apostles from previous decades — mostly statements from the ‘usual suspects’ for arch-conservative language with no shades of gray: McConkie, Lee, Kimball, etc…  Those statements aren’t really defensible, but other than President Hinckley’s statement that “gays have a problem” (meaningless out of context) they are also all out-of-date by at least 25 years.

(And — surprise, surprise! — 8 doesn’t label those quotes with a date, so viewers who don’t know those LDS leaders by name won’t know they aren’t contemporary.  This becomes laughable when a quote from apostle George Q. Cannon appears on the screen, sans date.  Wait, the George Q. Cannon who was an apostle under Brigham Young?  In the 1860′s???   Do modern Mormons really look to quotes from apostles 150 years ago to guide them on the issue of homosexuality?  Who is 8 trying to kid, here?)

8 — to the surprise of no one — does not share any of the more recent, softer, statements from the Church on homosexuality, nor does it admit that the LDS Church has publicly said (paragraph #4) that they do not oppose recognition of same-sex relationships through domestic partnerships nor privileges and blessings granted to gay couples — only to the use of the word “marriage”.   That’s a remarkable statement, really, but of course doesn’t fit within 8′s narrative…

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Better Sex Through Chastity
The Deseret News as the Church's political voice?

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