Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

The Mormon factor in marriage fight


Gay protesters and their allies demonstrated at the Mormon Temple in Oakland days after Proposition 8 was passed last November. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently acknowledged that it spent $190,000 more than previously reported in working to pass the measure, which eliminated same-sex marriage in California. Photo: Lydia Gonzales
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Ever since Proposition 8 passed last November, leaders involved with the No on 8 campaign have insisted they were unaware of the role of the Mormon Church in trying to eliminate same-sex marriage rights. No on 8 officials were also caught unaware until after campaign finance reports released last October showed that proponents of Prop 8 received a windfall of contributions from members of the Mormon Church.

But documents unearthed by the Bay Area Reporter show that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has had a consistent strategy to fight same-sex marriage that dates back more than two decades.

A not-so-secret history

Along with the 1997 LDS internal memo describing the Mormon's political same-sex marriage strategy for California and Hawaii, reported on by the B.A.R. late last year, the B.A.R. has discovered two 11-year-old documents authored by Utah State University professor Richley Crapo, Ph.D., which describe the genesis of the church's HLM (defined by Crapo as "Homosexual Lesbian Marriage") strategy.

While the Mormon leadership had no difficulty passing the nation's first state defense of marriage act in Utah in 1995, they found their earlier efforts in Hawaii more difficult, according to Crapo's document, "Chronology of Mormon/LDS Involvement In Same-Sex Marriage Politics."

Crapo's timeline begins in 1988 when the LDS, under then-President Gordon B. Hinckley, hired the marketing firm Hill and Knowlton to "monitor and promote the church's stance on gay issues in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress."

Crapo, who is straight and Mormon, explained that when three same-sex couples sued the state of Hawaii for the right to marry in December 1990, in a case known as Baehr v. Miike , the Mormons already had Hill and Knowlton on payroll for two years helping to develop the HLM strategy.

On May 5, 1993, the same day that the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in favor of the same-sex couples' right to marry, LDS Apostle Boyd K. Packer gave an address at a meeting of the All-Church Coordinating Council that called homosexuality one of the three major social problems that represent a danger to members, according to Crapo. Packer said the other two perceived "dangers" to the Mormon Church were "feminism and intellectuals," according to Will Carlson, Equality Utah's chief lobbyist.

Following the ruling, Hawaii's legislature became embroiled in competing measures, and the LDS leadership expanded the role of Hill and Knowlton, a firm known for legislative lobbying and consulting, before eventually changing to another firm, Edelman Worldwide, for its external public relations work.

Crapo also described how the LDS first reached out to Catholics at the genesis of its HLM strategy in Hawaii, inviting then-Honolulu Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo to vacation with Hinckley at the palatial LDS estate on the island. This was the beginning of a dialogue that eventually recruited the U.S. Catholic bishops to the LDS cause, according to Crapo, whose chronology calls into question the recent assertion by San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer that he invited the Mormons to become involved in the Yes on 8 fight.

In fact, the 1997 LDS memo from Elder Loren C. Dunn to M. Russell Ballard noted the church, under direction of LDS elder and political pollster Richard Wirthlin, polled California voters and determined that the Mormon Church didn't have the social stature necessary to win an initiative in the Golden State, but the Catholic Church did.

Catholic involvement has increased over the years. One East Coast Catholic university continues to provide facilities to house LDS attorneys who have worked as volunteers on amicus briefs for organizations opposing same-sex marriage, according to one LDS church member, who asked not to be named.

Lots of 'volunteers'

What also stands out in Crapo's chronology is the LDS church's ability to recruit its members to "volunteer," almost at the leaders' whim, and the willingness of the LDS leadership to deceive voters through misinformation and front organizations. Crapo even describes how the LDS used its own newspapers to disassociate itself from an organization it created as a front for its strategy in Hawaii. Crapo implies this was a purposeful, strategic effort by LDS leaders to avoid discovery by Hawaiian media.

Specifically, Hill and Knowlton advised the church to create an organization that would appear to the public to be a "grassroots" effort to protect the definition of marriage. While evangelical groups in California would make such a front organization unnecessary in the Golden State, there existed no similar sentiment at the time among Hawaiians, according to Crapo's timeline. The LDS subsequently created Hawaii's Future Today, funding it with two donations, one for $29,000 and one for $1,000, staffing it with LDS members. Hinckley placed Jack Hoag, the president of the church-owned First Hawaiian Bank, as president of the organization. The church also called upon political consultants from Utah to spend several "volunteer" months providing political support for the organization.

Those familiar with California's Yes on 22 (2000) and Yes on 8 campaigns noted the disproportionate number of Mormon staff members in both campaigns.

"After Hawaii, there was more of an attempt from the top to not be in the newspaper as much. There was more of an effort to create organizations that are structurally independent," said Crapo in a recent interview. These organizations are designed to "function independently, but with a loyal leadership."

"They [Mormons] certainly weren't talking about their involvement [in Prop 8] formally for a very long time," said Steve Smith, a principal in Dewey Square that managed the No on 8 campaign.

Kim Farah, LDS spokeswoman, does not dispute the claims of the Crapo timeline. Farah contends that the 1997 memo reflects a church position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage that has remained "highly consistent," referring the B.A.R. to the 1995 document on the issue by Elders Dallin H. Oaks and Lance B. Wickman described in the Crapo timeline.

The Oaks/Wickman discussion of same-sex attraction details the church's belief that homosexual inclinations are "an affliction" that may or may not be curable through counseling. Wickman describes his handicapped daughter looking forlornly through his office window at the new brides in Temple Square knowing "that will not be her experience. Courtney didn't ask for the circumstances into which she was born in this life, any more than somebody with same-gender attraction did. So there are lots of kinds of anguish people can

Utah State University professor Richley Crapo, Ph.D. compiled a chronology of Mormon work against same-sex marriage.
have, even associated with just this matter of marriage."

In November 2008, Elder Whitney Clayton, one of the Mormon's veteran same-sex marriage strategists, was quoted in the LDS-owned Deseret News , the Boston Globe , as well as California newspapers, claiming the LDS "does not oppose civil unions or domestic partnerships." Yet, when the B.A.R. asked Farah to confirm Clayton's assertion during an inquiry of the LDS position on civil unions in Utah, she declined comment.

Crapo, who spent years chronicling his church's same-sex marriage strategy, described Clayton's comment as "a notable inconsistency." Equality Utah's Carlson believed another LDS representative in Washington, D.C. said Clayton's comment applied only to certain states where the church was forced to accept political compromise, including Hawaii and California. LGBT activists and bloggers claim Clayton's comments allowed his church to appear more reasonable during the Prop 8 campaign than reflected by either its strategy or its long-held beliefs, as outlined by Elders Wickman and Oaks.

In fact, in a Mormon-produced interview, Wickman's description of the LDS position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage almost wholly contradict Clayton's more recent statement on the LDS civil unions position.

"There is no such thing in the Lord's eyes as something called same-gender marriage," Wickman said. "Homosexual behavior is and will always remain before the Lord an abominable sin. Calling it something else by virtue of some political definition does not change that reality."

Oaks's subsequent comments ironically mirror the Mormon's defense of polygamist marriage: "Another way to say that same thing is that the Parliament in Canada and the Congress in Washington do not have the authority to revoke the commandments of God, or to modify or amend them in any way."

In his 2003 book on Mormon fundamentalism, Under the Banner of Heaven , Jon Krakauer repeated the 1880 words of then-Mormon President John Taylor, who defied the United States government over the well-known Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants: "Polygamy is a divine institution. It has been handed down direct from God. The United States cannot abolish it. No nation on earth can prevent it, nor all the nations of the earth combined."

Ten years later, on October 6, 1890, under the growing threat that the U.S. government would confiscate church property, the leadership renounced polygamy, according to a story that appeared in the New York Times the following day. The irony of the contemporary church's role in denying marriage equality to same-sex couples has not been lost on LGBT bloggers.

The blog site Joe.My.God pointed out during the campaign that on the Web site, proponents claimed Prop 8 "... simply restores the meaning of marriage and protects it as an essential institution that has benefited mankind since the beginning of time."

The Web site statement may have been carefully worded to accommodate the inconsistent history of the Mormon definition of marriage. It describes the "meaning" of marriage, rather than the "definition," and it did not refer to a definition of one man, one woman. Mormons clearly did not believe in such a definition before 1890, when they were forced to renounce their own pluralistic definition of marriage. Fundamentalist Mormons, in fact, still hold to Joseph Smith's definition, with one man having multiple, subjugated, often minor, wives.

Last month Blair Suffredine, the attorney for Canadian polygamist defendants Winston Blackmore and James Oler, made headlines when he used Canada's marriage equality law as part of his client's defense. "If (homosexuals) can marry, what is the reason that public policy says one person can't marry more than one person?" said Suffredine, according to Associated Press reporter Jeremy Hainsworth. Canada's Parliament extended full marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2005.

When asked what the LDS position was on this story, Farah wrote in an e-mail to the B.A.R. , "Polygamist organizations that occasionally make the news are not dissident wings of the church or fundamentalist Mormons. They have no affiliation whatsoever with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most of their members have never had any association with the church."

In his book, Krakauer describes polygamy as ritualized subjugation and slavery of women and the compelling reason for age of consent laws, not comparable to consensual adult marriage.

Crapo told the B.A.R. that he stands by the accuracy of his decade-old work. "I did my best to be accurate," said Crapo, who added he had not learned of any errors in his chronology since its first publication in 1997. When asked if he felt the LDS strategy outlined in his paper indicated purposeful deception, particularly regarding Hawaii's Future Today as a front organization, Crapo was reluctant to answer.

"I value my membership in the church and I wouldn't want to be quoted as saying it was deceptive," he said. "Whether it was or not was not clear to me. Nothing appeared to be a clear violation of law."

From his experience, Crapo believes the LDS leadership is sincerely concerned about the effect marriage equality will have on the church – a church that has a history of government imposing its laws upon it.

"They really believe that there is some danger to the church," Crapo said.

Crapo, whose academic work focuses on religious anthropology, explained that the LDS is structured differently than other religions. "What is the church? If you ask Catholics, for example, they'll tell you it's the members, and the church hierarchy is there to serve them. If you ask a Mormon what is the church, they'll say, 'it's the organization.' There's a structure to the church that is from top to bottom," he said.

Next week: No on Prop 8 leaders respond to the Mormon strategy to block same-sex marriage. To view the Richley Crapo documents, visit and

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