8: 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.
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…)
One gay marriage supporter interviewed in 8 says she read some of the material from the “Yes on 8″ side as to why gay marriage should not be legal and says, “I couldn’t believe it. They were all lies.” Strangely, no examples are given, nor does she elaborate as to why they are “lies”. Statements that the opposition believes are true, even if she does not, are not, by definition, “lies”.
Another interview says that “critics” of the ‘Yes on 8′ campaign material “say they are full of dishonest and misleading material.” — again without elaboration. (Naturally, “critics” of the ‘Yes on 8′ publications criticize them — by definition, that’s what “critic” means. What do the “non-critics” of the ‘Yes on 8′ campaign have to say? Why not share the details of what the publications are saying and let us judge whether they are “misleading” or not?)
8 mentions the “Yes on 8″ side using “professional signature gatherers” several times, as if to imply that’s inherently less honest than the standard way of gathering signatures, rather than that *is* the ‘standard way’ for any political activity across all parties and ideologies. That’s why “professional signature gatherers” exist and stay in business.
8 tries to get mileage from the Church attempts to stay “hidden” and not become the public face of gay marriage opposition through coalitions with Catholics and Evangelicals. (“Don’t want to risk the PR hit…”) This is ‘evidence’ they were up to no good, according to 8 — although you would think the PR aftermath of Proposition 8 becoming “The Mormon Proposition” would have proven this concern correct.
(Catholics and Evangelicals are insulted in 8, just as much as the Mormons: they are portrayed as insincere in their opposition to gay marriage, only jumping into the fray when their LDS overlords showed up with money and resources and told them what to do. Obviously, 8 was not designed to change the minds of the non-Mormons opposed to gay marriage. Of course, they ended up getting what they wanted as well as letting the Mormons take the brunt of the PR hit, so you could say they come out ahead, anyway.)
8 also outlines previous LDS efforts to oppose gay marriage in other states, specifically Hawaii in 1998. Unlike the more public Prop 8 controversy, LDS efforts in Hawaii may not be widely known and will be new information for many. However, we ask the same question: what’s the point?
The only thing these Hawaii segments show is that the LDS Church has been consistent through the years in opposing legalized gay marriage. Isn’t being consistent with one’s principles…good? (If the facts revealed that the Church, say, had actually supported gay marriage in the past under Pres. Hinckley before flip-flopping and opposing it in California under Pres. Monson – that would be an interesting story.)
It’s obvious that gay marriage supporters disagree with those principles, but the fact that the Church acts the same way from decade to decade isn’t really a story, is it?
If you support gay marriage, hearing about previous campaigns against gay marriage gives you no new information other than LDS Church leaders apparently aren’t hypocrites. If you don’t support gay marriage, isn’t it good to hear that the LDS Church has been a consistent ally from decade to decade? Is this segment supposed to convince you to support gay marriage instead? Again, who is the film talking to?
Money is another key theme in 8 — specifically, the money spent by the LDS Church both officially as an organization, and from individual members. The best arrow in 8′s quiver related to money is that the Church originally claimed just $2,000 in “official” expenditures, but later admitted the real total to be around $190,000. (Not surprisingly, the Church has been ordered to pay a fine from the court for its inaccurate reporting.)
The dishonesty in reporting — whether truly deliberate or accidental — is disturbing…to Mormons, perhaps. Certainly the Church should have been more transparent in monies spent, especially if it intended to be ‘above reproach’ through the ugly political process — after all, being honest is a temple recommend question, and part of the 13th Article of Faith. Being dishonest simply hurts credibility and (deservedly) creates a PR problem.
But the Church’s failure to report funds accurately is still tangential to the question of gay marriage or whether Prop 8 should have passed in the first place. Supposing the first report had been accurate at the beginning, does it matter whether the Church spent $2,000, or $20,000, or $200,000?
In terms of “political lobbying” — where money is measured in the billions — spending 190k on a political cause isn’t going to turn heads. (This is why the discussion of whether the Church’s contributions violate their tax-free status is a non-starter. No one’s going to consider $190k to be “significant” spending).
Since we know gay marriage supporters would still be offended if the LDS Church donated twenty bucks and whatever change President Monson found between the cushions of his apartment sofa to Prop 8, and those opposed certainly aren’t going to care that the Church supported a cause they agree with through direct contributions — they may have wished the Church spent more than 190k, in fact — does the actual amount spent by the Church matter? Again, what does 8 expect the reaction of the viewers of this segment to be? Why should they care?
(Dirty secret of the Prop 8 campaign #1 – not discussed by 8 the documentary: despite the attention LDS spending has received, the “No on 8” side actually raised and spent more money than the “Yes on 8” side. It would be a fascinating study – and more productive for the pro-gay marriage side going forward if they wish to learn something from the Prop 8 experience – to analyze in detail the incompetent campaign that the “No on Prop 8″ side ran in California in 2008, despite having the advantage in money. The “No” side showed a lethal mix of apathy and overconfidence early on, had no public spokesperson to provide an emotional and human connection to their side, and allowed the “Yes” side to completely define the terms of the debate from the beginning.)
Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary for a documentary to be objective and unbiased, only that it be accurate. You can argue, in fact, creating a purely objective documentary is impossible. (A relevant quote from co-director Steven Greenstreet’s 2006 documentary This Divided State says, “There is no such thing as an objective viewpoint – we all see things through filters.”)
It’s acceptable that the co-directors of 8 have a ‘bias’ — a specific opinion on the question of legalized gay marriage — that becomes obvious to viewers during the film. Only accuracy matters.
However, there’s “accurate” and there’s accurate. There are a number of areas where 8 conveniently skips facts that are directly relevant to the film’s topic (but not the film’s thesis), and deliberately misleads viewers by implying things that aren’t true. Scenes are designed such that viewers ignorant of the facts will receive a mistaken impression, even though the filmmakers will still have “plausible deniability” to say they didn’t directly say anything that was untrue. Ironic, since the makers of 8 accuse the “Yes on Prop 8″ campaign of doing the exact same things.
To understand 8 in its proper context, let’s review the timeline of events in California related to gay marriage.
1999: California passes a basic “domestic partnership” law for same-sex couples with a package of benefits that include hospital visitation and inheritance privileges between partners.
2003: California passes the Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act, to take effect January 1st, 2005. This law greatly expanded the benefits for same-sex couples, filling in the gaps between “domestic partnerships” and “marriages”, and is still in force today.
Now, domestic partnerships in California are still not strictly equivalent to marriage. There are two primary differences:
- Partners have to be 18 (technically you can get married before you are 18)
- Partners have to share a residence (not a strict requirement for marriage).
Other than how the paperwork is filed, those are the only major differences between domestic partnerships and marriages in California…other than the name.
For couples over 18 who live together, the benefits and privileges — health care, power of attorney, adoption, hospital visitation, inheritance, state income tax, etc — are the same between same-sex couples and opposite sex couples. (Even the minor differences are arbitrary. In Vermont, for example, civil unions are exactly equivalent to marriage in all respects other than the name. Follow-up legislation in California in 2009 and 2010 has already started to eliminate these differences.) Currently, there are approximately 58,000 registered domestic partnerships in California.
May 2008: The California Supreme Court rules that gay marriages must be allowed in California.
June 2008: Following this ruling, marriage licenses become available for gay couples starting on June 17th. Approximately 18,000 gay couples will receive licenses between now and November.
One of those couples is Tyler and Spencer, the primary focus of 8: The Mormon Proposition. They are an ideal couple to be the ‘face’ of the documentary for a number of reasons: they seem like really nice guys, are commited to each other, and (most suitably for the documentary) they both come from Mormon families. (8 doesn’t specify whether the two of them had previously registered for a domestic partnership or not.)
At the same time marriage licenses were being allocated, filings were made to overturn the California Supreme Court’s verdict through a proposition on the ballot to be decided in the November election. The proposition, if passed, would amend the California Constitution to specify that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”.
November 2008: Proposition 8 was voted upon and – in a somewhat surprising upset – passed with a 53% / 47% split. The results of the proposition passing were that no more new marriage licenses were issued by the state to same-sex couples, although the 18,000 existing same-sex marriages previous to the election were still considered valid. (This was confirmed in a California Supreme Court ruling in May 2009). Proposition 8 had no effect on existing domestic partnerships in California, nor on the ability of future same-sex couples to register for one.
2009/2010: Both sides of the debate filed follow-up legal motions – the “No on 8” side to have the results of the proposition overturned, and the “Yes on 8” side to allow companies in California not to have to recognize those ‘grandfathered’ same-sex marriages in terms of spousal benefits if they don’t want to. Neither side is expected to succeed.
That’s how things stand today. Why go over the timeline of same-sex relationships in California in such detail? Because 8: The Mormon Proposition doesn’t. Not because of time or pacing, but because the full timeline shares facts about gays’ legal status in California that Cowan and Greenstreet quite obviously don’t want you to know.
A viewer from Rhode Island unfamiliar with California law would *never* know from 8 that California has recognized same-sex domestic partnerships with the same benefits of marriage since 2005…and still does today, even after Prop 8 passing. It’s ironic that the existence of legally-recognized domestic partnerships in California seems almost to be an embarrassment to the makers of 8 — rather than something to celebrate. Why go to such great lengths to avoid talking about it?
In a documentary specifically about gay rights in California, shouldn’t a discussion of the current state of gay rights in California not just be useful, but mandatory? However, the reason 8 avoids this discussion should be obvious: the existence of domestic partnerships in California equivalent to marriage directly undercuts the necessity for gay “marriage”. The existence of domestic partnerships means the battle over Prop 8 wasn’t about allowing gays to visit their sick partners in the hospital or share in health care benefits — those privileges have been available since 2005. It was about semantics — literally, about who gets to use the word “marriage”. It’s a battle of symbolism, nothing more.
What’s more: all the same-sex marriages before Prop 8 passed are still valid, including Tyler and Spencer’s. They are still married today — literally, ‘married’, not just with a domestic partnership. Isn’t that also a relevant fact that you would expect in a documentary about gay marriage and Prop 8?
8 wants to pretend domestic partnerships don’t exist in California, and that the Prop 8 battle was about actual privileges and blessings being blocked from gay couples, rather than about usage of a word. 8 wants to pretend that Tyler and Spencer’s legal status was actually in the balance in the Prop 8 election, and that its passing has altered their relationship. 8 shows us the happy occasion of Tyler and Spencer’s wedding in June 2008, then the narrator (Dustin Lance Black — screenwriter of Milk and another former Mormon) solemnly intones that “their happiness wouldn’t last long. Already there were dark forces conspiring to take it all away…”
Take ‘what’ away? Tyler and Spencer are still married. Their legal status, privileges, and benefits under California law are the same today as the day they got married.
Tyler describes how he and Spencer “were able to enjoy weeks and weeks of the benefits of marriage” and then woke up “defeated” on November 5th, after hearing the proposition passed. (What’s stopping you from “enjoying the benefits of marriage” today? You’re still married. Why imply otherwise?)
Spencer asks, in frustration, “Who could have voted for this? Who could have done this to us?” (Done ‘what’? You’re still married…)
If that’s not intellectual dishonesty to consistently imply that Prop 8 had actual legal ramifications for Tyler and Spencer’s marriage — and others like them — when it did not, then what is? Why not be straight-forward about what Prop 8 meant and what it didn’t so viewers can judge for themselves?
If we are supposed to believe that domestic partnerships in California are not good enough — only “marriage” will suffice — the subject should be dealt with directly. 8 doesn’t seem to have an answer for why “marriage” is needed (not just ‘wanted’), and ducks the issue entirely.
Tyler’s mom — who has commendably been supportive of her son and son-in-law from the begining — is the only person in the entire film who acknowledges the existence of domestic partnerships in California. Why, according to her, should California have gay marriages instead of domestic partnerships? (“It’s just different,” she says, “Marriage took [Tyler and Spencer's] relationship to a whole new level.”) Not exactly a logically robust argument…
Begging the Question on Civil Rights
Virtually all people in the US think murder is wrong. Many Americans support legalized abortion without restrictions. To a hard-edged “pro-lifer”, this is an unfathomable contradiction.
No, it’s not. The explanation is simple: those people do not consider abortion to be “murder”. They do not accept the basic premise behind the entire pro-life argument.
For a pro-lifer to have a productive dialog with someone and attempt to convince them that abortion should be illegal, they have to start from that premise and work upwards. They can’t start by just assuming something is self-evident to the other side that (obviously) is not. Generally speaking, the people that believe that abortion is murder…tend to oppose abortion already.
Virtually all Americans – including Mormons — believe that everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, should have the same civil rights as everyone else. Many Americans oppose governmental recognition of same-sex relationships using the word “marriage”. Everyone involved with 8 the documentary seems to believe this is also an unfathomable contradiction.
It’s not, for the same reason: Those people do not consider legal recognition of same-sex relationships using the word ‘marriage’ to be a “civil right”. Thus, any productive dialogue must start at that issue and work forward. Gay marriage supporters can’t just start by assuming that it’s self-evident governmental recognition of same-sex relationships as a ‘marriage’ is a “civil right”, as Cowan and company seem to do.
“Civil rights” is a term used at least 20 times within 8: The Mormon Proposition, without further discussion in any of them. What defines a “civil right”?
Gay marriage supporters in the film lament that Prop 8′s passing is “the first time in the history of the U.S. laws have been passed to take away rights from its citizens.” Which is patently false: after the Civil War, the U.S. government took away the right of Southerners to own slaves. You say owning slaves isn’t actually a “civil right” and never was? Well, many Southerners certainly believed it was at the time — obviously, then, just because a group of people believe something is a “civil right” doesn’t automatically make it so.
(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…
The Heart of 8: The Mormon Proposition — Improving LDS / Gay Relations
Once the documentary has finished with the dry and meaningless details of the Prop 8 campaign — and explained why all Mormons are evil, intolerant bigots without an original thought among them — 8: The Mormon Proposition finally gets around to some important material in its last twenty minutes.
Many present-day gay Mormons share their personal feelings of isolation after being rejected from their families for committing the sin of admitting they are attracted to members of the same gender. Many of them describe their suicide attempts, and one gay Latter-Day Saint in 2000 committed suicide outside an LDS chapel after being rejected from his family.
8 also shares some horror stories about the electro-shock therapy used to “cure” homosexuality in the 1970′s. And a brief discussion of homeless teens who have run away from their families and have to live on the street with little help and little hope to survive. (8 is a little coy about whether the homeless teens shown are actually gay — not all homeless teens are on the street because of homosexuality, of course — but the point is made: far too many gay young people are abandoned by their family, especially Mormon families.)
This is the heart of 8: The Mormon Proposition — even if the film itself sticks this section in the back almost as an afterthought. Regardless of the debate concerning “marriage” versus “domestic partnerships”, gay Mormons today face an almost insurmountable challenge — how to “endure to the end” in a church that seems to despise them.
It is an unfortunate truth that the easiest way for a Latter-Day Saint to forget the ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ axiom is when the word ‘homosexuality’ is used. While “homophobe” is an over-used word, thrown out by members of the left to describe anyone who does not support any part of the gay rights agenda, it is still a reality in many ways. Many LDS would be more comfortable with the two guys living next door to them being drug dealers than a gay couple. Many LDS genuinely think the proper response to having a gay kid is to throw them out of the house, and withhold all love and support until they “change”. Is there a more obvious example of someone NOT asking themselves, “what would Christ do?” — especially when we are no longer talking about some strangers in California who want a piece of paper with their names on it, but their own flesh and blood.
(Tyler and Spencer both describe the hateful emails they received from Mormon family members because of their relationship. While that’s not an argument FOR legalized gay marriage, obviously, one wonders what those family members were thinking, and what they expected the response to be. You may not think marijuana should be legalized, for example, but would you send emails to a marijuana-smoking relative that said, “I refuse to find joy in your happiness.”?)
Many gay Mormons still believe in God and in the restored gospel, and try to reconcile gospel doctrine with their own internal feelings. (“I’m exactly how God made me.” says one lesbian in the film. Are Latter-Day Saints prepared to deal with the idea that same-sex attraction may have a biological component, and that gay individuals appear to be a fundamental part of God’s “creation”?)
This section should be required viewing for all Church members, if only to ask themselves whether they truly believe gay individuals are worthy of their charity — especially their own family members. Is there ever an excuse for saying, “you are no longer a son/daughter of mine.”?
Now you may ask an obvious question — how do high gay suicide rates among Mormons and horrific “treatments” of homosexuality from three decades ago directly relate to Proposition 8 and legalized gay marriage in 2008?
It doesn’t…and this is basically my point. It’s not about marriage — it’s about love, charity, and treating everyone as if they are God’s children with infinite eternal worth. The fact that this section is (a) the heart and soul of the film, and the section that people most need to see, and (b) only tangentially related to the theme of the documentary — LDS involvement in the Prop 8 campaign — shows just how far askance the film’s chosen theme really is. This section is what audiences need to hear, and 8 puts an hour of irrelevant material ahead of it, with only a thin line bridging the two.
Finding The Right Target Audience
It’s obvious that 8 is aimed only at the “choir” – people who already support gay marriage. Who should the audience have been, though?
If Cowen and Greenstreet were serious about having a positive impact on gay relations in 2010, I submit they should have aimed the documentary at one group in particular: Mormons themselves.
There are faithful Mormons who were ambivalent — even disturbed — at the Church’s active involvement in the Proposition 8 campaign. Many members were disturbed about the “shaking down” of California members for campaign contributions with the threat of Church discipline. Many members were disturbed at California missionaries — whose ostensible purpose is to share the gospel and bring people to Christ — were redirected to work in the Prop 8 campaign in 2008. Many of the quotes from past Church leaders –while still from previous generations (or centuries) — may cause reflection for LDS members as to what they believe themselves. Many of the Prop 8 campaign details — such as the misreporting of funds, or the family of 7 who donated their kids’ college funds to the Prop 8 campaign — won’t be significant to non-members, but might be another data point to ponder for faithful Church members who could be involved with similar campaigns within their lifetimes.
It’s not that those Mormons will (nor need to) start supporting gay marriage, but they will almost certainly reflect upon their own attitude towards gay individuals. They may ponder how best to respect and counter the feelings of isolation, depression, and suicide from gay family members, friends, and neighbors who need their love and charity the most. And ponder the utility (or lack thereof) of severing relationships with gay loved ones.
In short, 8: The Mormon Proposition had the potential elements to improve gay relations within the Mormon community…if faithful Mormons were to view this documentary.
But they won’t…
Because Cowan and Greenstreet have not made a documentary that will appeal to Mormons — in fact, they’ve deliberately created one that will turn them off. Mormons are the enemy. 8: The Mormon Proposition has divided the population into Us and Them…and Mormons – ALL Mormons – are part of Them.
I submit that this is the biggest criticism that can be levied at 8: it’s constructed in a way that will immediately scare off what should have been its primary target audience.
- No faithful Mormons are presented sympathetically, as noted above. 8 pretends faithful Mormons who were ambivalent to (or directly opposed to) Prop 8 don’t exist — an immediate turn off for those members who could have been the most accessible audience for the film to reach out to.
- It’s narrowly focused on “gay marriage in California” instead of the larger issue — charity towards gays, especially gay Mormons. 8 doesn’t believe that one can develop greater charity towards gays as fellow human beings and children of a common God without needing to support legalized gay marriage at the same time. 8 defines “charity towards gays” AS “supporting legalized gay marriage”. That’s far too narrow and limiting, especially when the most emotional and moving parts of the documentary have NOTHING to do with gay marriage.
- It’s rated R, because of three or four swear words and vulgar terms. While the “should Church members watch R-rated movies” debate is ongoing, the R-rating is still a huge handicap for attracting Mormon viewers. None of the profanity in 8 is vital to the content and could not have been cut for a lower rating.
- Quotes from Church leaders out of context, scary music and audio cues whenever Church leaders are displayed on screen, questionable interpretations of LDS doctrine, and a host of other biased (and unnecessary) filmmaking tricks. Even the film poster (featuring a dark image of an unseen puppet master manipulating minions on strings — gee, who does the puppet master represent here?) is designed to scare off faithful Mormons.
Add these all together and you have a package designed not just to NOT attract faithful Mormons, but deliberately offend them. Even the Mormons who can (and should) consider the secondary theme of the film about charity and Christ-like behavior towards gays aren’t going to watch 8: The Mormon Proposition because they’ll hear about it being merely an anti-Mormon polemic.
And for the most part, they’d be right. Unfortunately, it seems the filmmakers of 8 think “tolerance” is something only other people need to do.
8 wants to make clear that most gay marriage supporters are sincere about their beliefs. They’re not trying to “destroy marriage”, but in fact trying to support marriage and families in their own way. They have a particular opinion on optimal social policy, and how they feel governments should recognize personal relationships between individuals. Most of them peacefully utilize their rights under the US Constitution to vote according to their beliefs, encourage others to do the same, and donate time and money to causes that support their views.
Is it too much to ask that Mormons who oppose gay marriage are accorded the same courtesy? That most of them are also sincere about their beliefs? That they are also not trying to “destroy families”, but trying to support marriage and families in their own way? That they also have a particular opinion on optimal social policy, and have the same rights as everyone else to vote according to their beliefs, encourage others to do the same, and donate time and money to causes that support their views?
The end result is that 8: The Mormon Proposition becomes a film with virtually no audience and virtually no impact. Gay marriage supporters were already on board with their thesis, and 8 does nothing to help further the cause other than recount past history. Those opposed to gay marriage are given no reason or arguments to change their mind. Mormons who supported Prop 8 aren’t going to watch because the film hates them and has no sympathy for their views, and the Mormons who didn’t aren’t going to watch it because…well, according to the film, they don’t exist.
It’s really too bad that the important messages here are going to be lost. If I was asked by another Church member if they should see 8, I would say, honestly: “20 minutes of it should be required viewing for all Church members…and the other 60 minutes are an intellectually dishonest framing of a serious issue that is probably a waste of your time to watch.” You can decide for yourself how many members would end up seeking out the documentary based on that “recommendation”.