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Gay activists protest Mormon church

Beyond the anger over the church's support for a gay-marriage ban in California, some seek dialogue.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 13, 2008

Upset: Protesters hold placards outside a Mormon church in Los Angeles Thursday. Church leaders supported a gay-marriage ban.

Kevork Djansezian/AP


San Francisco

At a rally downtown, Kevin Kopjak holds a sign that reads, "No More Mr. Nice Gay." Many in the gay community are fed up, he says, and ready "to fight the good fight."

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Tens of thousands of people have turned out in California cities to protest a new voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages, and wider demonstrations are planned for this weekend.

Much of the anger rippling through the crowds has focused on the Mormons and the leaders of their Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). Church leaders asked members to support the ban, and they did – to the tune of more than $15 million, by one estimate.

Now petitions are circulating that call for the LDS church's tax-exempt status to be revoked. Gay marriage supporters are also trying to organize a boycott of Utah, and have picketed Mormon temples in Oakland, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City.

Even in the heat of protests, however, both sides reveal a nuanced empathy for the opposition beyond what the placards, robo-calls, and TV ads might suggest. The challenge, say some leaders and experts, is to build on that by opening up dialogue and avenues for compromise.

"I think it's really important ... not to let this become a claim that Mormons are the reason for everything that went wrong, on the one hand, or one that falls into a knee-jerk 'This is just anti-Mormonism' reaction. Because each of those are toxic," says Sarah Gordon, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on the Mormon church.

Mormons make up about 2 percent of California's population, and not all voted for the ban. Other larger demographic groups – including Catholics and African-Americans – made up more of the 'Yes' vote. But many in the gay community find the direction from church leaders, and the amount of money raised, galling.

While outsiders impute many motives to the LDS church, the obvious, important one remains religious belief. "The faith itself is based on concepts of salvation within the family and a very committed pro-natalism," says Ms. Gordon. Arguably, marriage marks the most important faith moment for a Mormon.

Given that marriage is so sacred to people like the Mormons, and that government benefits are so tied to marriage, policymakers may be able to satisfy both sides only when they disentangle the two, she says.

One suggestion for how to do that comes from Doug Kmiec, a same-sex marriage opponent who doesn't feel the issue is best handled by litigation. "Sometimes it just leaves us with broken people on both sides, which I think is where we are heading now," says Mr. Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University. Instead, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could institute a compromise, he says, with a sweep of his pen.