8: The Mormon Proposition

Wolfe Video,

Reed Cowan, Steven Greenstree

Reed Cowan

Narrated by:
Dustin Lance Black

Spencer Jones, Tyler Barrick, Fred Karger, Gavin Newsom, Bruce Barton, Emily Pearson, George Takei, Liz Towne, D. Chris Buttars

Rated R, 80 minutes

by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online December, 2010

8: The Mormon Proposition, a scathing documentary by directors Reed Cowan and Steven Greenstreet, exposes the Church Of Latter Day Saints' involvement in the passing of California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in that traditionally liberal state.

As every gay person in America knows, (unless they've been living under a rock), the California Supreme Court ruled, on June 16, 2008, that same sex couples could legally wed. The gay community's euphoria was short lived as "Christian" and Conservative groups, with way too much time on their hands, leapt into action. Secretly led and funded by the Mormon Church, using the newly formed National Organization For Marriage as a front to hide their involvement, these pious homophobes gathered the 1.1 million signatures needed to get Proposition 8 on the 2008 ballot. They raised and spent an obscene amount of money to achieve their goals and were, unfortunately, successful. Ironically, on the same day that America elected its first African American President, voters in California embraced bigotry and enacted anti-gay legislation. So much for equal protection under the law.

Narrated by Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, 8: The Mormon Proposition does an admirable job tracing the money trail and the cover-ups perpetrated by this unholy alliance. Mormon-born director Reed Cowan's original aim was to document the thousands of homeless gay and lesbian youth throughout Utah, primarily in Salt Lake City. While this sad reality is still revealed in the third act, the research that uncovered the Mormon Church's involvement in Prop 8 was so damning that it became the film's focus and took center stage.

Using a mix of narration, news footage and talking heads, the filmmakers present the information clearly and concisely. A series of leaked memos are periodically displayed on the screen with the pertinent facts highlighted. In 1996, the Mormon Church (again hiding behind a coalition of other organizations so that their involvement might go un-noticed) began an attack which eventually overturned a Hawaii ruling that allowed gays to marry. A memo, uncovered by activist Fred Karger (the founder of Californians Against Hate and a specialist in investigating dirty politics) revealed that the Mormons had, by then, already chosen California as being "very ripe for a successful ballot initiative." They repeated, and refined, the same tactics in California that they used in Hawaii. It was a long and carefully orchestrated campaign, more than a decade in the making.

A series of broadcasts are shown wherein the church hierarchy commands their flock "to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to preserve the sacred institution of marriage." (Never mind that the founders of this religion were hounded across the country in the 1800s for practicing polygamy.) Several ex-Mormons come forward to explain that "means and time" is part of a vow they take to defend the church and forward its mission - and that they will lose their eternal salvation if they do not keep that promise. They also explain that Mormons believe that the church's leader, or "Prophet," is literally in communication with God, and that there is no doubt in their minds that a command from the Prophet is a command from God.

The church Elders then proceeded to intimidate their members. We learn that some church members were visited by a Bishop who told them the exact amount they can "afford" to give to Prop. 8, and then waited for the check to be written. They were threatened with excommunication if they failed to comply. Huge contributions poured into California as families, like sheep, obediently dipped into college and retirement funds. Church members were instructed to make phone calls, write blogs, post on Facebook and Twitter, and go door to door. Deceitful, and expensive, commercials were aired that exploited the idea of "religious freedom" and children being in danger if gay marriage wasn't overturned. (The clips shown from these extreme "Duck and Cover" commercials would be comical if the stakes weren't so high.) Mormons make up 2% of California's population but accounted for 71% of their campaign contributions.

One of the most deplorable things about all this is the way that the Mormon Church cowardly tried to hide their involvement. The usual missionaries were told not to dress in their typical "uniforms," when they proselytized door to door, so that the average Californian wouldn't associate them with the Church Of Latter Day Saints. One commentator refers to the Mormon Church as "the man standing behind the curtain that you weren't supposed to see."

Giving a human side to the story, the film returns often to (amongst others) Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones, two young Mormon men who were amongst the first to get married on June 16, 2008 in California. Ironically, both of these men are descended from one of the Church's founders. Several hateful e-mails they received from family members stated that they didn't support their union and that they gave money to Prop. 8. "I never felt the slap of inequity like this," one of them says. "Society saying that you are not as good as the rest of us. We are not first class citizens, straight people have more rights." When Prop 8 passes, the images of grief-stricken gays are devastating.

8: The Mormon Proposition, as is to be expected, does not paint a flattering portrait of the Church Of Latter Day Saints. Yes, it is clear whose side the filmmakers are on but this, in my opinion, is not a fault. The Mormon Church broadcasts that mobilized their flocks are deliberately presented as ominous looking low-res television images that make the speaker resemble an Orwellian Big Brother. Night photography transforms the Mormon headquarters in Salt Lake City into a Gothic house of horrors.

I had to watch this film in two sessions. By the time Prop. 8 passes, at the film's mid-point, I was so angry that I had to turn the film off for an hour before my head exploded. When I returned, I was momentarily entertained by Fred Karger's post-election day investigation which generated a lot of bad press for the Mormons when their involvement was revealed. Highlighted memos show how the church tried to hide, and then minimize, their contributions to Prop 8. We see demonstrators chanting "Tax the Mormon Church" and, if there was any justice in this world, the church's tax exempt status would be revoked for their meddling in politics (they have good lawyers). Meanwhile, the viewer is treated to a number of choice quotes from Mormon elders like "Homosexuality is an ugly sin, repugnant like adultery and incest and bestiality. They carry the death penalty under Mosaic Law" (Spencer W. Kimball, Mormon Prophet) and "The only way [to stop them] is for the Lord to wipe them out." (George Q. Cannon, Mormon Apostle.) A current Apostle tells Mormom youth that it is "better to be dead than to be a homosexual."

Just when I thought I couldn't possibly get any angrier, I learned that Utah has the highest suicide rate in the world, more than some countries, and that a huge percentage of them are gay youth. We see a number of teenagers living on the streets and in squalor. Young Mormon gays speak of being disowned by their parents and being told that they are not really gay; they are only being "tempted" and that God said they can be "fixed." This, of course. doesn't work. Consider, for example, the "epidemic" of suicides at the Mormon-owned Brigham Young University.

Bruce Barton, a former student at Brigham, comes forward and describes a scene right out of the nightmarish conditioning undergone by Alex in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Barton's name was on a list of 12 suspected homosexuals and so he was brought into a room and told to strip naked. He was given medicine that would make him vomit while gay pornography was projected on the wall and he was called names like "cocksucker." For his final session, he had electrodes strapped to his wrists, his chest and his genitals. He was given a button to push every time he saw an image on the wall that he thought was sinful, or that he liked. If he didn't push the button, they would push it for him. He speaks of a man who refused to follow their orders and had that button pushed so many times that he became sexually dysfunctional for life. Two of men on the list disappeared from the campus while several others committed suicide. Barton also tried to take his life.

And what do the Mormon leaders have to say? All of them, surprise surprise, refused to interviewed for the film. We see a few spokespersons, in newsreel footage, trying to spin things their way by saying things like "Homosexuals are intolerant" because of the boycott of Prop 8 supporters. One insists that gays are not a protected class like Blacks or Jews. The worst spokesman we hear is Republican Utah Senator, and former Mormon leader, Chris Buttars (the one person who did grant an interview, a decision he must have rued ever since). This is a man who was once vilified for saying on the Utah Senate floor: "This baby is black. This is an ugly thing." He claims that gays are the greatest threat to the world today. Not terrorism, not hunger, not global warming, gays are the greatest threat. When called on the carpet by reporters, he refused to apologize for his hateful comments.

Meanwhile, back in the human race, Gavin Newson, the Mayor of San Francisco tells of a young girl who hugged him and thanked him for giving her two Mommies.

Does this film preach to the choir? Of course it does. Like the documentaries of Michael Moore, it was made for a pre-selected audience but - also like Moore's best work - it exposes societal wrongs on a grand scale and it is hoped that it might change peoples' minds. Is it one-sided? That is a matter of debate, although in this reviewer's opinion there is nothing one-sided about championing human rights and exposing illegal and oppressive behavior that is destructive to segments of the population. Nevertheless, this film has been accused of not being fair to the Church of Latter Day Saints but, since high ranking church officials refused to be interviewed for the film it isn't like they weren't given a chance to state their side of the story. The interview footage with unrepentant, bigoted Senator Buttars pretty much says it all, doesn't it? The U.S. Constitution protects free speech but the line should be drawn when the exercising of that right takes away the rights of others.

In theory, a documentary should be objective and, in actuality, this film does explain Mormon dogma and how gays supposedly interfere with "God's plan" that allows them to happily fornicate in polygamous relationships in the afterlife. Is this reviewer being biased? Well, yes, and I make no apologies if this review is turnng into an Op-Ed piece. I am a gay man who is tired of hearing that his 22 year committed relationship is not "legitimate." We're talking about people's lives here. This country was founded on a separation of Church and State. Churches are not supposed to meddle in politics and those that do should lose their tax-exempt status because they are no longer a church at that point, they are a political organization. Do we want these groups seizing enough power to impose their standards of morality on the country? We've already seen what happens when groups try to legislate morality - just look at that damage wrought by Prohibition. We don't want a return to the Dark Ages with church-run Inquisitions. Love the sinner and hate the sin is their mantra but, just to be safe, let's also make the sin illegal.

8: The Mormon Proposition is an excellent and thought provoking documentary. If watching it doesn't turn you into an activist, you might want to check your pulse to make sure you are not dead.