Review: 8: The Mormon Proposition

Review: 8: The Mormon Proposition June 28, 2010

8: The Mormon Proposition8: The Mormon Proposition is described as being “an indictment of the Mormon Church’s historic involvement in the promotion & passage of California’s Proposition 8”. Directors Reed Cowan and Steven Greenstreet (This Divided State) – both former Mormons — have spent the year and a half since the November 2008 election researching and compiling this documentary.

One basic question, before we dive into the details: what’s the purpose of this documentary?

You might consider that a dumb question – obviously, its purpose is to tell the public how the LDS Church was heavily involved in the Prop 8 campaign.

Yes…but we knew that already.  After all, we’ve only been – you know – talking about it constantly the last year and a half?  What’s the purpose of this documentary?

It would be one thing if LDS involvement was a secret, or if Cowan and company were informing the public that – guess what? – it was actually the Jehovah’s Witnesses driving the Prop 8 campaign, not the Mormons.

But LDS Church involvement in the Proposition 8 campaign has been common knowledge since the very beginning, especially among gay marriage supporters.

Andrew Sullivan – as you might expect – was on top of the issue from day one, writing about Mormon involvement in Prop 8 here.  And here.  And here and here..

Daily Kos posted about it at the time also. (See also here)

As did the Huffington Post.

All of those linked articles are from late 2008 / early 2009, and share the same financial figures and “secret” internal Church memos that 8: A Mormon Proposition does. In fact, 8 itself contains scenes from protests against the LDS Church that arose immediately after the 2008 election — showing that most gay marriage supporters already had a good idea who to “blame.”

If so, then what’s the point of this documentary?  8: The Mormon Proposition has set as its focus an election issue that has already passed, sharing information that the people who care about the issue already know.

Now, of course, even though Prop 8 is past history, the debate over gay marriage still rages on. Perhaps you might assume a larger purpose of 8 the documentary is to encourage support of gay marriage in California or elsewhere?

In this you’d be wrong. 8 is long on appeals to emotion (and the details of LDS Church participation in the Prop 8 campaign) but short on actual substance in terms of why, specifically, gay marriage should be legal.

If you are opposed to gay marriage (or even on the fence) there’s nothing in 8 that’s going to make you reevaluate your position.  No specific arguments in support of legalized gay marriage are presented (other than “gays want it”), and the few mentioned arguments from the opposition against gay marriage are presented without rebuttal.

It’s as if the documentary assumes the audience should know already that gay marriage should be legal, and no further discussion of that point is necessary.  In debate terms, this is called ‘begging the question’.

If this is the case — if the documentary has no interest in convincing skeptics that gay marriage should be legal — then 8 has no real audience.   It is aimed only at those people who already support gay marriage…the people who presumably need to see it the least.

8: The Mormon Proposition is the epitome of “preaching to the choir” – its only conceivable appeal is to a target audience who already accept every point the documentary is trying to make. Unless Cowan and Greenstreet are supposing there are a large number of Americans who don’t support gay marriage but also don’t like Mormons, and will think, “Mormons oppose gay marriage? Well, I’d better start supporting it, then!”, this documentary will have zero impact in the gay marriage debate.

The irony is — buried beneath all the Prop 8 minutia — 8 the documentary actually contains some valuable material related to homosexuality in the U.S. today, particularly within the LDS Church.  Important (and moving) material, in fact, that could have formed the basis of a documentary with a positive impact on gay relations today — with Mormons or anyone.  (More on this later…)   Unfortunately, it is surrounded by pointless (and intellectually dishonest) material that will only serve to alienate any members of the audience who aren’t already in the “choir”.

Now let’s delve into the details.  And we’ll ask those same fundamental questions: who is the film talking to, and what message is it trying to convey?

Did you know the LDS Church doesn’t support gay marriage?   You did?  Oh.

8 spends a fair amount of time outlining the Prop 8 campaign — how it was organized, and how it was funded.  The Church took the lead in organizing interested parties (Catholics, Evangelicals), supplied most of the money (71% of the total contributions on “Yes on 8” came from Mormons), and most of the volunteers.  The talking heads in 8 use characterizations like “underhanded” and “dirty politics” to describe the process without elaboration, even though the “underhandedness” of the campaign from their perspective seems only to be they were opposing gay marriage at all.

The only thing interesting about the tactics and methods used during the campaign is that…they aren’t very interesting.  To an outsider who don’t have a horse in the gay marriage race, the methods used by the Church — enlisting a coalition of other interesting parties, creating an non-religious front organization to handle the actual campaign details — seem like common sense … and common across all political activity in the US today.

(8 provides no context to judge LDS activity in any other way — I’m not sure how the filmmakers would even answer the question, “How *should* the LDS Church have run their campaign against gay marriage instead?”.  The objection was that they were running the campaign at all…)

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