Review by: Wik Wikholm
Reviewed on: April 01, 2011
The documentary film 8: The Mormon Proposition indicts the Mormon Church as the puppet master that orchestrated, funded, and deliberately concealed its role in what appeared to be a successful grassroots Evangelical and Roman Catholic campaign for Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment that ended same-sex marriage in California when it passed on November 4, 2008.
The terms of the film's argument are defined in an interview with Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Kendell explains that success in passing a California ballot proposition depends on money more than anything else, but also on volunteers and a compelling "message that resonates." Using a variety of sources, the film demonstrates that the Mormon Church provided all three to the Yes on 8 campaign.
The history of the Mormon battle against same-sex marriage is told by retired Republican political consultant Fred Karger, who remains active in Republican politics and is also a vocal glbtq activist. He reports that he received a portfolio of internal church documents that traces Mormon efforts against marriage equality back to the successful campaign to stop same-sex marriage in Hawaii in 1998. One of the lessons Mormon leaders learned there is that the Mormon Church suffers from a low approval rating and should, therefore, conceal its involvement in political efforts against marriage equality.
According to the documents, Mormon leadership determined that Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians are better liked than Mormons, so they cultivated an alliance with those two groups. Ten years later, that Mormon-driven coalition assembled the Yes on 8 campaign. Even though the Mormons provided much, and possibly most of the money, many of the volunteers, and the sophisticated organization the proposition's passage required, the Mormons and their allies made the campaign look like a grassroots uprising that sprang from the Evangelical and Catholic communities.
The film also shows that the Mormons appear to be pursuing a similar behind-the-scenes approach with the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a Political Action Committee (PAC) that has played an increasingly prominent role in opposing same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland, and elsewhere. The film suggests that the Mormon Church is engaged in what amounts to money laundering by concealing its funding of non-tax-exempt PACs like NOM so that the church's own tax-exempt status as a non-political religious organization is protected.
The Mormons' uniquely virulent horror of queer couples drives their efforts against marriage equality. The film explains that the intensity of Mormon homophobia arises from the Church's theology. Mormons believe that their heavenly father was once a human being who became a god when he died. After becoming a god, he polygamously married many "spirit-wives," reproduced prolifically, and ultimately populated the Earth. According to church doctrine, good Mormons will become gods when they die and populate their own planets just as their heavenly father did. From a Mormon standpoint, gays and lesbians are guilty of all the wickedness ascribed to them by Catholics and Evangelicals, but, even worse, same-sex marriages threaten the entire Mormon conception of the afterlife because it depends on polygamy and reproduction.
Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black narrates the film, which includes brief comments by glbtq movement leaders, politicians such as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and even actor George Takei, but the two most important figures are Trey Barrick and Spencer Jones. Trey and Spencer, a young gay Mormon couple who married during their brief window of opportunity in California, tell their story and relate the effects Mormon homophobia has had on them and their families in bits of interviews peppered throughout the film. Careful editing and directing and Trey and Spenser's sweetness and loving commitment to each other give the film its most moving moments.
The last three chapters of the nine-chapter film move beyond Proposition 8 and more broadly criticize the Mormon Church's relationship with its gay and lesbian members. The film cites extraordinary suicide rates among queer Mormon teens and reports on the callous response and tacit endorsement of queer suicides by church leaders. It goes on to report on destructive psychiatric treatments including aversion therapy and lobotomy that have been imposed on some gay members. The final chapter shows expressions of glbtq rage in street demonstrations against the Mormon church in many locations.
Even though they are valuable in exposing the brutality of Mormon homophobia, these last three chapters distract viewers from the film's central argument, the important historical material presented by Karger, and the engaging story of Trey and Spencer's personal triumphs over Mormon homophobia in their own lives and marriage. Happily, the last scene features Spencer and Tyler snuggled together on a couch. "I just want people to get that this is simple," Tyler says. "This is just love."