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Why Mormons are the Prop. 8 villains

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Anti-Mormonism is part of the reason why Proposition 8 protesters are

targeting the LDS Church, according to media and culture experts. They

say the use of anti-Mormonism as a way to hurt Mitt Romney's

presidential campaign legitimized its use as a political tool by

protesters in California.

Supporters of "same sex marriage" in California are targeting

Mormons for protests because the LDS Church supported the state

constitutional amendment that defined marriage as being between a man

and a woman.

"It was clear that the LDS Church was a key spearhead in terms of

organizing and supporting the Prop. 8 effort," said Richard Alan

Nelson, a professor of mass communication and public affairs at

Louisiana State University and an expert on propaganda in the United


But the church's high profile role may not be the only reason why protesters are singling out the Mormons.

Terryl Givens, a professor of literature and religion at the

University of Richmond and author of a book about negative portrayals

of Mormons in the media, thinks it goes beyond just the role of The

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I think the rationale behind the attacks is pretty transparent,"

Givens said in an e-mail exchange. "The Romney campaign and

accompanying polling revealed a fertile field for anti-Mormonism still

exists. The Catholic Church is too big and powerful. But in attacking

Mormonism, they get a two for one. They vent their anger on a

relatively powerless institution. And they color the support for Prop.

8 in negative, guilt by association colors."

Nelson would agree with the assessment that attacking Mormons as a

political tactic is part of what is behind targeting the LDS Church.

"I think the Romney campaign revealed that there's an undercurrent

of anti-Mormon prejudice as compared to just general anti-Christian

prejudice . . . the LDS Church you would say, based on the level of

prejudice, would be an easier target," Nelson said in a telephone


Daniel Peterson, a professor of Islamic Studies at Brigham Young

University and a well-known observer of critics of the LDS Church, sees

animosity also coming from how progressives view the church. "We are

perceived as being corporate Christianity — so much more hierarchal

and organized than many," he said in a telephone interview. "It's one

thing to have a little corner store, a mom and pop thing, but Mormons

have the aura of a corporation. And we are 'social reprobate' according

to a lot of progressives."

Nelson speculated what the anti-Prop. 8 protesters might be

thinking: "The Mormons helped really push this. We know the Mormons are

really seen as heretical or different by other Christians. Maybe we can

split this Christian movement and get support for us by linking this

effort to the Mormons only."

Peterson said, "Mormons are portrayed kind of as invaders into

this California process — as if there are no California Mormons: this

foreign church that meddled in California affairs. Which is kind of

funny because a ruling in California would affect the whole country,

there's no question."

Choosing to protest at the LDS Church's temples also makes sense from a propaganda standpoint.

"Any time you are trying to organize a protest against something

you need a symbol, you need a staging area — and, of course, the

temples are a perfect backdrop for television," Nelson said. The

temples are visually interesting, according to Nelson, and lend

themselves to symbolic representation.

Peterson thinks that people are missing part of what those temples represent.

"There is this notion that it's Utah that has intervened. It's

Utah that has to be boycotted. The very nature of the building where

they have demonstrated around in Westwood ought to indicate we have a

substantial presence in California and have had. That temple is

enormous, first of all, and it's over 50 years old," Peterson said.

Nelson said, "The defense of marriage against alternative

lifestyles is one aspect of the problem. If marriage is sacred, if

marriage is the foundation of all of society, then marriage needs to be

strengthened in so many other ways that this one issue is only a small

segment of a much bigger problem."

Part of the reason a case can be made against marriage, according

to Nelson, is because the rate of divorce is so high and conventional

families are facing many problems today. Nelson thinks a good tactical

response to the criticism is to work to strengthen families. He would

start emphasizing marriage education and the need for training in

marriage, "how to prepare for marriage, what to do if you are thinking

of getting married."

Givens said, "At this moment in the debate, it has become

political theater rather than exchange of ideas. I don't think members

of the church have available to them a constructive way to engage those

most angered and distressed by their position. At every stage in a

political process, there is a moment where the point of no-compromise

is reached, and parties can only react with civility or protest.

Mormons should choose the former."

"Actions speak louder than words," Nelson said. "By acting in a

Christian manner, by being a good person, by not letting those that

revile you overcome your commitment to choosing the right is always the

best policy."

E-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com