It is in the heated weeks before the presidential election that the neatly manicured streets of Irvine receive an extra splash of color. If you have driven around at all, you will note that the cause is hardly the changing leaves of autumn. Instead it is the abundance of political yard signs. Although the signs predominantly feature varying shades of red and blue, it is Orange County’s reputation as a more-or-less socially conservative area that makes it no surprise to see a smattering of canary-yellow “Yes on 8” signs.
The “Yes on 8” signs make up approximately 6 percent of the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign, a small amount compared to the funds that go toward airing television commercials. TV watchers should prepare themselves for the barrage of political advertisements scheduled to run during their favorite shows during the last week before the election. At any rate, the money for the Yes campaign has come in unexpectedly large amounts from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons.
It would seem that Mormons may be the only ones unaffected by the recent economic crisis. Since June 1, almost 60,000 Mormon families from around the country have contributed to the Yes campaign, which seeks to make it illegal for same-sex couples to marry.
What is the sum of their donations? Over $18 million, a number that will likely continue to grow up until the day of the election. Fred Karger, founder of the Californians Against Hate Organization, reports that these contributions account for over “77 percent of the total money raised and 88 percent of all individual money raised (not including funds from the big out-of-state organizations).”
Individual families have donated as much as $25,000, but hundreds of families have made donations of $1,000. These considerably large donations have been attributed to the involvement of Mormon Church elders, who are calling for families within the LDS community to make these donations in order to “protect marriage.”
However, these large donations do not come without a sacrifice. Pam and Rick Patterson, residents of Folsom, California, have withdrawn $50,000 from their savings to donate to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign. Although the Pattersons drive a 10-year-old Honda and live with their five sons in a modest three-bedroom home, the Pattersons expressed that it was a clear decision, one that had so much potential to benefit our children and their children.
Speculators suggest that this massive financial mobilization is a way for the Mormon Church to “improve its tarnished image,” but there are many church members who disagree with the movement. Andrew Callahan is a member of the LDS community, who started a Web site against what he has called the church’s demands to discriminate and curtail civil rights.
The Web site, SigningforSomething.org, features a verse on its homepage from the Book of Mormon. It reads, “We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government.”
Shortly after this Web site was founded, Callahan was approached by church members and asked to resign his membership or face excommunication.
Ironically enough, the family-values-based campaign has been causing rifts in hundreds of thousands of families. Mormons in particular are faced with the decision of abiding by the decrees of their spiritual leaders and religion or upholding the rights of their family and friends.
Linda Stay, a Mormon mother of two gay children, expressed her conflict of emotions.
“[I am] saddened that the LDS church, which once held the ultimate light of truth in my eyes, could be so quick to enlist its congregations to rally in judgment, bigotry and disdain for the civil rights of humans. I am appalled at their use of fear to influence its members, stooping to the same devices that our politicians use to manipulate. I cannot believe this is what a loving God would condone or inspire anyone to do. Supposedly the LDS church holds the family to be of utmost importance, yet I watch families being pulled apart, divided and separated over this issue of following their prophet or supporting their loved ones,” Stay said.
This rift, however, is not isolated to just the members of the LDS church. Vocal support on both sides of the issue is causing tension among members of the Episcopal, Methodist, Catholic and other California churches. On Nov. 4 when the polls close, the results will tell whether the investment by the leadership of the LDS church and other religious sects with similar views were worth it. One thing is sure though: Proposition 8 has opened the debate over same-sex marriage in communities of faith in addition to other groups and has shown that not all people of faith support the elimination of same-sex marriage.