Monday, June 14, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Proposition 8, Revisited

It's hard to believe that it has been two years since the first legal same-sex marriages took place in the state of California. Sadly, euphoria turned to disappointment a mere five months later, when voters approved the insidious Proposition 8 by a narrow margin and took away the right of GLBT couples to marry.

The new documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition is being released this Friday to commemorate the anniversary of California's short-lived time of marriage equality. The film will debut in 13 major US cities and will be available that same date for On Demand purchase via cable and satellite providers as well as digital download channels.  Also, the DVD is already scheduled for release on July 13.

It is no secret that the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (whose members are often referred to as LDS or Mormons, for short) was a major supporter of Proposition 8, both financially and in terms of its leaders encouraging members to vote for the legislation. 8: The Mormon Proposition reveals that Mormon donations accounted for 71% of campaign contributions toward the success of Proposition 8, even though Mormons make up less than 2% of California's population.

GLBT and other protesters stormed the church's Los Angeles temple immediately following the proposition's passage and continued to do so for several weeks. This and allegations against the LDS of overstepping Church-State bounds are revisited in the film. Veteran political consultant Ron Karger appears and terms the overall effort to see Proposition 8 succeed "dirty politics."

What I found new and interesting in the documentary is an unveiling of a Mormon "conspiracy" against same-sex marriage that predates Proposition 8 by over ten years. In 1996, LDS leaders became concerned about efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Hawaii. They secretly began laying the foundation then for a well-organized opposition from the church that would culminate in California in 2008.

8: The Mormon Proposition — which is narrated by the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Milk, Dustin Lance Black, who was raised LDS — is similarly interesting and helpful when it explains the Mormon theology of marriage and the afterlife, which are intimately related. As Black bluntly states, "Gays interrupt the Mormon plan for Heaven," thereby posing a somewhat understandable threat to LDS families hoping for the ultimate, celestial reunion of their members.

As the movie unspools, however, the filmmakers' biases become more evident, to its detriment. According to the film's press notes, director Reed Cowan and many of those behind the camera grew up gay in the Mormon faith. They often experienced bigotry and a lack of acceptance from their own family members, which has resulted in a number of suicides among young, gay LDS men. A couple of these cases of suicide are detailed in the film, along with torturous psychological techniques some Mormons have been subjected to in an attempt to "cure" them of their homosexuality.

While GLBT viewers will naturally be sympathetic to the filmmakers and these sad experiences, the detailed recounting of them distracts from the film's main subject. What's more, the unrelenting attack on the LDS church in 8: The Mormon Proposition lets other churches and religious groups that were also heavily involved in promoting and passing Proposition 8 off the hook. There is only one fleeting mention of the Roman Catholic Church's historic partnering with the LDS in opposition to same-sex marriage, and no mention of the various fundamentalist congregations in California that also helped Proposition 8 to succeed. The Mormons did not and could not secure its passage all by themselves, but the film sure makes it look like they did.

8: The Mormon Proposition resurrects a painful period in California's GLBT history. While it is always important to remember the past in our effort to not repeat its disappointments, it is also time to move on and to work together harder than ever for the equal right to marriage in California — and everywhere.

UPDATE: 8: The Mormon Proposition is now available on DVD from

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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