How Far Will Mormons Go to Fight Gay Marriage?

The Mormon Church should think twice before stepping up its fight against gay marriage.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

If a gay marriage question is put on the California ballot in 2010, it will put the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at a seriously interesting crossroads.

It has been three or four decades since the Mormon Church chose a low profile in American politics, after its opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, and theological hostility to black Americans, spurred an anti-Mormon backlash. The Mormons are among the most persecuted of American sects, and highly sensitive to criticism.

The church's low-key strategy seemed to work. There are still some Mormon-haters in evangelical Christian circles, but for the most part the Mormons are accepted and admired, and church membership has soared.  Mormon politicians like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman are regarded by mainstream America as legitimate presidential timber.

Mormon watchers were surprised, then, when the church hierarchy took such an active role in the passage of Proposition 8 in California, limiting marriage to a man and a woman. Gay Americans were surprised as well. They didn't expect the church to embrace gay marriage, but neither did they predict that the Mormon Church would emerge as a resolute and politically-active foe, whose support for Prop 8 was perhaps determinative. Some of the resultant anti-Mormon rhetoric has been vicious.

Now that Prop 8 has been upheld by the California Supreme Court, gay rights groups say they will put gay marriage on the ballot in California again, and mount a full scale effort to win public approval, perhaps as soon as 2010.

That will put the ball back in the church's court. The family is at the center of Mormon theology. But the national political trends are running against the church. Younger Americans—even young evangelicals—are more than willing to see their gay friends get married.

Opposing gay marriage in Utah (as the church did in 2004) is one thing, but taking a lead public role in a national campaign to deprive a persecuted minority of a right shared by all other Americans is another. It would be seen as a sign that the days of low-key tactics are over, and that the current Mormon leaders are prepared to give, and get, the political bruising that occurs when religion mixes with politics in America.

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