Archive for August, 2009

Money Laundering Complaint Filed in Maine Gay Marrige Election

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 26, 2009
CONTACT:
Fred Karger 619-592-2008

Formal Request for Investigation of Money Laundering Filed in Maine Gay Marriage Election

AUGUSTA, MAINE — Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, an LGBT watchdog group, sent a letter detailing alleged election law violations by Stand for Marriage Maine to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. The request for an immediate investigation was sent yesterday to the Jonathan Wayne, the Commission’s Executive Director and a copy to attorney General Janet Mills.

The nine page complaint (below) and fourteen attachments spell out how the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Knights of Columbus of Washington, DC and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family had contributors give the money to their organizations, and then they in turn gave the money to the Stand for Marriage Maine in order to hide the identity of the donors.

Letters and emails from NOM Executive Director Brian Brown were included where he stated:

“And unlike in California, every dollar you give to NOM’s Northeast Action Plan today is private, with no risk of harassment from gay marriage protestors.”

“Donations to NOM are not tax-deductible and they are NOT public information, either.”

“Your gift is confidential: no public disclosure!

Marc Mutty, Executive Committee member of the Stand for Marriage campaign on leave from the Diocese of Portland admitted in the Sun Journal that, “Political Funds Came From Donor.”

“It’s money laundering plain and simple,” said Karger, who successfully sought a similar investigation with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC Case # 08/735) of the Mormon Church for vastly underreporting it’s non-monetary contributions to Proposition 8. The FPPC investigation of the Mormon Church is entering its tenth month.

“We feel that we made a very compelling case in our complaint, and are asking the Ethics Commission to consider our request at their next regularly scheduled meeting on September 8, 2009. This blatant disregard for Maine’s election law needs to be investigated. There is no way that only 0.001% ($400) of the $393,000 raised by Stand for Marriage Maine came from individuals.” “The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints (Mormon Church) created the National Organization for Marriage specifically to qualify and pass Prop 8 in California. Now they have NOM doing their bidding in Maine, Iowa and all over the Northeast,” concluded Karger.

FULL LETTER TEXT BELOW

August 24, 2009

Mr. Jonathan Wayne
Executive Director
State of Maine Commission on Governmental
Ethics and Elections Practices
135 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333-0135

Re: Request for Investigation of Stand for Marriage Maine

Dear Mr. Wayne:

I received your letter of August 14, 2009 in response to my letter of August 13, 2009.

You asked me to provide more detailed information on why I believe the four funders of Stand for Marriage Maine are merely conduits for those wishing to hide their contributions.

These entities are laundering money to evade the disclosure of the actual contributors to Stand for Marriage Maine.

By way of background, I have been a political consultant and corporate public relations executive for more than 30 years. I am very familiar with political campaigns, campaign finance and reporting. I have managed or had a major role in dozens of local, state and national campaigns throughout the United States.

In reviewing the Stand for Marriage Maine first quarterly filing of July 15, 2009, I noted that only 0.001% ($400.00) of the $343,689.50 raised came from individuals. The balance of $343,289.50 came from religious organizations and Focus on the Family.

By way of comparison, last year, the Protect Marriage, Yes on Proposition 8 campaign in California disclosed more than 60,000 individual contributors of $100 and above. Thousands more contributed under that amount to repeal same-sex marriage in that state.

During the qualification period in California, 1,492 individuals contributed at least $100 to put Prop 8 on the ballot. Granted, California is a much larger state, and the qualification period was longer. But even taking that into account, only four individual contributors to Maine’s effort to stop same-sex marriage seems highly unusual.

Led by the National Organization for Marriage, a federal law suit was filed in early January of this year against the California Attorney General, Secretary of State and all five member of the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).to try to remove donor names from the Secretary of State’s web site. The lawsuit asked the court to relieve them and “all similarly situated persons” from having to meet the state’s campaign disclosure requirements for donors.

The judge refused their request. What they wanted to do in California is precisely what they are now doing in Maine- hiding the identities of contributors to Stand for Marriage Maine.

The four organizational donors that gave to Stand for Marriage Maine, with the possible exception of Focus on the Family, circumvented Maine’s campaign reporting law to avoid disclosure of the true contributors.

National Organization for Marriage (NOM)
$160,000 to Stand for Marriage Maine

I have tracked this two year old organization practically from the day it was formed in May 2007. It was created to qualify Proposition 8 for the ballot in California. It raised and spent over $2 million to do so.

In California, it appears that NOM reported all of its contributors. NOM merely acted as a pass through organization. It raised big money to qualify Prop 8, and then, either paid the professional signature gathering firm directly, or gave the money it raised to Protect Marriage (another California Yes on 8 committee).

NOM was very successful in its fund-raising. It received 141 contributions during the Prop 8 qualification period between January 1 and May 31, 2008. It raised well over $1 million during those five months. The average contribution was $7,607. In Maine, the average contribution to Stand for Marriage Maine was $34,368.00 from a total of ten donors.

As the largest donor to Stand for Marriage Maine, with a seat (Brian Brown) on its five member Executive Committee, NOM is, without doubt, likely going back to its past major contributors. Likely donors include Terry Caster, who gave $293,000 to NOM, and $400,000 to Protect Marriage, John Templeton of Philadelphia, who gave $550,000 to NOM and $550,000 to Protect Marriage. The Knights of Columbus even gave NOM $250,000 in early money on February 4, 2008. It was the largest contributor to Prop 8, giving a total of $1,425,000. Or conceivably NOM’s money is coming directly from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church).

Mormon Church Created NOM

We have closely tracked the money that was raised to pass Proposition 8 in California last year. Californians Against Hate was the first to uncover the vast involvement by the Mormon Church. After much research, we discovered that Mormon Church members gave approximately 75% of the $40 million that was raised to pass Prop 8.

By virtue of their significant financial investment in Prop 8, the Mormon Church took over every aspect of the campaign. It produced and used Church members in all of the television commercials, did all of the direct mail, and organized precinct walking every Saturday from August 16th though Election Day. They ran a speakers bureau, phone banks, web sites and brought in thousands of Church members for the final “surge to victory,” the weekend before the election. We now know that all of this activity was directed from Salt Lake City, with several high ranking Church leaders traveling regularly to California.

On November 13, 2008, just nine days after the election, we filled a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), your counterpart in California. Our complaint alleged that the Mormon Church had spent far more than the $2,200 it reported in non-monetary contributions.

We submitted evidence supporting our claim that the Mormon Church ran out-of-state phone banks, produced 27 slick commercials (that ranged from 30 seconds to 8 minutes long) and put them up on the elaborate web site the church created for all to see on PreservingMarriage.org. We also asked the Commission to investigate costs incurred by the Mormon Church to bus people from Utah to California to engage in precinct walking, for direct mail and numerous other activities.

The FPPC announced that it had launched an unprecedented investigation into the Mormon Church (Case # 08/735) as a result of our complaint. On January 30, 2009, the Mormon Church filed a report (long past the date when it was due) showing an additional $190,000 in non-monetary contributions. When we filed our complaint with the FPPC immediately following the election, the Church attacked me and stated that it had spent “zero dollars on Prop 8.”

In February of this year, we received hundreds of purportedly “secret” Mormon documents showing exactly how involved the Mormon Church has been throughout the country in fighting same-sex marriage. The documents reveal how the Church established “front groups” in states to wage the electoral battles, and shield the Church from negative publicity.

After reviewing all the documents, we filed a supplemental complaint with the FPPC on March 19, 2009. We alleged that the Mormon Church established the National Organization for Marriage in May 2007 for the express purpose of qualifying Proposition 8 for the California ballot. This was done in conjunction with leading Catholic organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been the leading voice against gay marriage in this country since 1988. This was done at the request of, and under the direction of then Church President, Gordon B. Hinckley. The Mormon Church appears to have played some role in all 30 state elections where gay marriage has been banned in this country. Now, Maine is the Church’s latest target in their mission to stop same sex-marriage.

The Mormon Church does not deny its involvement in the Northeast. When asked in a May 29, 2009 Washington Post story about its activities in the Northeast, a Church spokeswoman declined comment, but said that Church leaders remain intent on preserving the “divine institution” of marriage between a man and a woman. “The faith holds that traditional marriage transcends this world and is necessary for the fullness of joy in the next life.”

On our web site Mormongate.com, we describe the formation of NOM by the President and the 12 Apostles of the Mormon Church.

In reviewing official Mormon documents, one can see exactly how the Church operated in Hawaii to skirt Hawaii’s election laws. The Church funneled money through Hawaii’s Future Today, which the Church created to fund and manage that state’s campaign to ban same-sex marriage. In Hawaii as in California, the Mormon Church worked hand in hand with the Catholic Church.

The Church’s pattern of establishing front groups, demonstrates how the Church established NOM. The purpose of the organization is to shield the Church’s active involvement in paying for and running the campaigns. By qualifying Maine’s referendum for the November 2009 ballot, the Church is participating in its 31st state campaign.

In press releases and direct mail, NOM has attempted to portray itself as the “victim”. Attached to this letter is a sampling of emails and letters from NOM Executive Director Brian Brown.
Mr. Brown makes statements like, “And unlike in California, every dollar you give to NOM’s Northeast Action Plan today is private, with no risk of harassment from gay marriage protestors.” Or “Donations to NOM are not tax-deductible and they are NOT public information, either.” Or “Your gift is confidential: no public disclosure!

Clearly, NOM is telling its donors to contribute to NOM and avoid disclosure. In doing so, NOM is clearly violating Maine’s law.

NOM Active Around the Country

The National Organization for Marriage has become the most visible leader in opposing same-sex marriage throughout the United Sates. This year, it has surfaced to run campaigns against same-sex marriage in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa and Washington, DC.

Last week, NOM filed an independent expenditure report, signed by Brian Brown, with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, that it spent $86,000 to buy television and radio ads supporting Iowa anti-gay marriage candidate Stephen Burgmeier.
Several months ago, NOM admitted to having spent more than $6 million in states where same-sex marriage was before state legislatures. NOM aired slick television and radio commercials, produced millions of pieces of direct mail, conducted robo-calls, direct connects, and hired lobbyists, among other activities NOM produced and spent $1.5 million to air the infamous “Gathering Storm” television commercial in the Northeast. Incidentally, the commercial must have been made by the Mormon Church, because 10 of the 13 actors in that commercial have been positively identified as Mormon Church members. See Chino Blanco’s findings.

Finally, the National Organization for Marriage has violated federal reporting laws. It has steadfastly refused to release its IRS Form 990s despite repeated requests from several organizations, including ours and the news media. National Organization for Marriage, Inc. was formed in 2007 as a nonprofit corporation, exempt from taxation under section 501(c)4 of the Internal Revenue Code . In 2008, National Organization for Marriage Educational Fund, was formed as a nonprofit corporation exempt from taxation under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.

We have visited NOM’s offices and sent certified letters requesting copies of what are supposed to be publicly available organizational reports. Yet, NOM refuses to release any of its federal financial documents, in violation of federal law.

Over its two year existence, Brian Brown and NOM president Maggie Gallagher have been the focus of the organization. These two super-humans are keeping very busy and they have been very successful. They must, however, abide by federal and state laws.

Diocese of Portland
$100,000 to Stand for Marriage Maine

The other leading financial supporter of Stand for Marriage Maine is the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. While not as familiar with the Diocese, I have reviewed their finances though public documents, Diocesan financial reports and newspaper accounts. The Diocese appears to have substantial revenue, but it also has very high expenses. It reported losing $7.5 million in 2008 from the “deteriorating financial market conditions.” Its savings account appeared to contain only $10,812 in its 2008 report.

Recently, the Trinity Catholic School laid off employees, and the Diocese plans to close two Catholic parishes in Lewiston, both due to declining revenue. Just today, the Diocese announced that they were closing three more churches because of tight finances.

Over the past several years, the Diocese has paid out millions of dollars to settle priest abuse claims.

In each annual report, there is a reference to the priest abuse payouts in their “Message from the Finance Officer.” It’s entitled “Cost for Sexual Abuse.” It varies over the past four years that records are available. In 2005, it was reported as $625,000; in 2006 it was $624,000; in 2007 it was listed as $832,000; and in 2008, it was reported as $348,000.

Newspaper accounts report that the Portland Diocese has paid out $2.6 million to 86 victims from 1976 to 2002. Recently, $4.4 million was awarded to Steven Boyden by Justice Joseph Jabar in Kennebec County Superior Court. In January of last year, $4.2 million was awarded to plaintiff William Picher.

The Diocese lists “Insurance Claims Payable” under “Financial Information” in its annual report. This amount is always in the millions, but it is unclear if these charges are related to the “Cost of Sexual Abuse.” In the last two years, those amounts were $2,567,731 (2008) and $3,824,110 (2007).

The Diocese sent out a Bishop’s Appeal to raise funds to pay these claims, perhaps they used a similar approach to raise the money it contributed to Stand for Marriage Maine.

There is no evidence that the Diocese has ever given substantial sums to other ballot question campaigns or PACs in Maine prior to the $100,000 contribution on June 6th. Most organizations such as the Diocese budget all expenses one or two years in advance. The Diocese does not have hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting in their treasury. To make a donation, the Diocese would need to collect donations as part of a separate fund-raising appeal.

In a July 17, 2009 Sun Journal story, Marc Mutty, who is on leave from his work as Communications Director at the Portland Diocese, practically admitted that the Portland Diocese had raised new money for the campaign. He said parishioners should know the donated funds were not taken from the collection plate.

“The money is dedicated revenues that were provided by a donor for causes such as these and money from the collection basket or any of those types of things would never be used,” he said.

Mutty said he only had limited details regarding the origins of the donation.

“It’s my understanding the money was left to the Portland diocese for defending church dogma or policy, that sort of thing. It wasn’t specific to this particular issue. Our application to this issue was our choice, but it fell within the general parameters of the donor’s request,” he said.
This certainly does not correspond to the Diocesan Financial Council Statement of November 2008, which looked to, “…achieving openness and transparency in diocesan financial reporting.”

In Sunday’s Kennebec Journal, Marc Mutty, chairman of Stand for Marriage Maine’s executive committee, said, referring to the criticism by Californians Against Hate. “We are frustrated at the fact that it’s yet one more distraction.”

Knights of Columbus
$50,000 to Stand for Marriage Maine

The Knights of Columbus is chartered as a fraternal benefit society headquartered in New Haven, CT. It is required to provide life insurance to its members. Founded in 1882, it has recently become the “political arm” of the Catholic Church. The Knights has supported constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage across the United States.

The Knights of Columbus is a nonprofit corporation, exempt under section 501(c)8 of the Internal Revenue Code. It is very difficult to evaluate its finances. What is unusual about their $50,000 contribution to Maine is that such a substantial amount would come from Washington, DC. Historically, contributions from the Knights come from either the national headquarters in Connecticut or from the state chapter where the election is taking place.

In last year’s California Prop 8 campaign the national Knights gave $1,400,000 and the California Knights gave $25,000. It would be very interesting to see why the Washington, DC Knights gave $50,000 to Stand for Marriage. Because of its size and minimal reporting requirements, the Washington, DC chapter would be a likely recipient of laundered funds. Then they could then turn around and give it to a campaign.

The Knights, as is the case with religious organizations has suffered from severe losses in its investments and has seen its membership decline. Massive contributions to various state anti same-sex marriage campaigns derived from existing treasury funds are inconceivable.

Focus on the Family
$31,000 to Stand for Marriage Maine

James Dobson’s Focus on the Family has been experiencing tough times lately, too. While still a huge power among the religious right in this county, it is not the force it once was. Dr. Dobson has been eclipsed by Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church and other younger leaders. Last year Focus let go 202 employees. It received much criticism for the $620,000 that it gave to qualify and fund Prop 8, as it was firing 20% of its staff.

Focus still reports $141 million in revenue for 2007. It had a net loss of $3 million that year, however. It has huge expenses to support its gigantic complex in Colorado Springs as well as Dr. Dobson’s extravagant lifestyle.

It would be easy for James Dobson to reach out to some of his wealthy Board members and benefactors and ask them to give funds to Stand for Marriage Maine through Focus on the Family. Michigan’s Elsa Prince, who is on the Board of Focus, gave $450,000 to pass Prop 8 last year. Dr. Dobson has access to many donors who could donate directly rather than use money from the dwindling treasury.

Conclusion

Without question, there are irregularities in the financial disclosures of Stand for Marriage Maine that would warrant an immediate investigation into their funding sources. Unpaid obligations of $145,000 remain, as do many unanswered questions.

Another campaign finance report is not due until October 13, 2009. By this late date, just three weeks before this crucial election, it will be too late to see if this pattern of attempting to hide the true identity of the contributors to Stand for Marriage Maine will continue.

We respectfully request that our allegations be heard at your next regularly scheduled Commission meeting on Tuesday, September 8, 2009.

That would allow the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices time to ensure an election that will enable Maine’s voters to learn the actual sources of funds contributed to Stand for Marriage Maine.

Thank you very much for your consideration of our request.

Best regards,

Fred Karger
Californians Against Hate
1278 Glenneyre, #20
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
619-592-2008

cc: Attorney General Janet Mills

Attachments: Appendices

Mormon – NOM Cooperative in Iowa Election

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Des Moines Register

Anti-gay, Mormon-funded group spreading lies and fear in Iowa, group says

By Jason Clayworth • jclayworth@dmreg.com • August 24, 2009

One Iowa, the state’s largest civil rights organization for gays and lesbians, is speaking out about an out-of-state Mormon-funded group that’s spent at least $86,080 on a special House race to fight marriage equality for same-sex couples.

The National Organization for Marriage is a New Jersey-based group known for its multi-million investment to pass California’s Proposition 8.

The marriage organization last week filed an independent expenditure statement indicating it has spent $86,080 on radio and television ads that benefit Stephen Burgmeier, the Republican candidate for House District 90 in a Sept. 1 special election in southern Iowa.

Burgmeier is opposed to same sex marriage. His Democratic opponent, Curt Hanson, says he believes Iowans should be able to vote on a constitutional amendment to prohibit same sex marriages.

One Iowa executive director Carolyn Jenison issued a statement today noting the marriage organization’s efforts in Iowa.

“The Mormon Church and NOM have invested millions of dollars to spread lies and fear in California and now they have their sights set on rural Iowa,” Jenison said. “This raises the question: Has Burgmeier been bought and paid for by out of state religious extremists? If not, he should reject this divisive ad.”

She continued:

“NOM has a history of funneling money from the Mormon Church into anti-gay measures, while refusing to disclose the source of their funds. NOM should release the list of those contributing to the ads airing in Iowa.”

Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, was also quoted in One Iowa’s press release:
“This is about out-of-state extremists attempting to buy an Iowa election, plain and simple,” Jochum said.

One Iowa has countered the ads with its own. See it here.

Calls made Monday and Tuesday to NOM, including one to its executive director Brian Brown, were not immediately returned.

Maine Coverage + 8 The Mormon Proposition

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Three Excellent Stories: Maine — Investigation of NOM and Other Groups, AP Story – Mormon Church in Hot Water & Mike Tidmus on San Diego Kiss-In at Manchester Grand Hyatt?

Kennebec Journal Story by Matt Wickenheiser

BY MATT WICKENHEISER

Maine Sunday Telegram



Maine’s same-sex marriage debate increasingly seems to be a coast-to-coast affair.

Earlier this summer, the campaign seeking to repeal Maine’s new same-sex marriage law said it had retained Schubert Flint Public Affairs, the high-power firm that ran the successful effort to ban gay marriage in California.

Now it appears Sacramento, Calif.-based Schubert Flint may face some familiar foes.

This past week, Equality California, the San Francisco-based group that fought to maintain gay marriage in that state, said it planned to support similar efforts in Maine. During a conference call in which Equality California officials talked about trying to reinstate gay marriage there in 2010, they also pushed support for their Maine counterparts.

The attention, and several press releases from both supporters and opponents of gay marriage, demonstrate a growing focus on the Maine debate and the importance it will have on a national level this year.

Both sides – supporters and opponents of gay marriage in Maine — have attracted dollars and expertise “from away.”

“Equality is our mission, and we support our brothers and sisters throughout the country,” Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors said in a Friday interview. “Each time there are more people who are able to have the dignity and respect and rights that come with marriage, the better it is for everyone, and the better it is to restore marriage rights in California.”

Kors said his group would contribute $25,000 to the “No on 1″ campaign in Maine. Kors also said the group would encourage supporters to make matching contributions and volunteer time to help the campaign in Maine. And Equality California is evaluating what sort of staff assistance it could send to the East Coast, Kors said.

Also on Friday, the Washington Blade, a gay and lesbian publication, reported that the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign had donated $50,000 to No on 1 this past week, raising the total contribution from that group to $75,000.

The group is committed to donating at least another $50,000 to Maine, and it has field staffers working in the state, the Blade reported.

The group spearheading the people’s veto initiative, Stand for Marriage Maine, put out a release this past week, criticizing the California-based efforts.

“Stand for Marriage Maine’s opposition has constructed a glass house, claiming their campaign is being orchestrated by Mainers, not special interest groups from away,” the group said. “The Equality California announcement would seem to roll a boulder right through that glass house.”

Mark Sullivan, spokesman for No on 1, said the campaign “welcomes the support we’re getting from defenders of marriage equality.” Sullivan noted that Stand for Marriage Maine had already received more than $200,000 from out-of-state groups, according to campaign finance reports filed last month.

Sullivan said Maine organizers had not yet spoken to their California counterparts about how efforts could match up.

“We’ll be looking forward to meeting with them,” said Sullivan.

The money that Stand for Marriage Maine has received from national groups, particularly the National Organization for Marriage, was the subject of yet another critical e-mail – this one from a California group supporting same-sex marriage.

On Thursday, Californians Against Hate, based in San Diego, put out a media statement complaining that while Stand for Marriage Maine had received large sums of money from those groups, it wasn’t apparent who had donated money to those groups in the first place.

“We certainly don’t take much of it very seriously,” Marc Mutty, chairman of Stand for Marriage Maine’s executive committee, said, referring to the criticism by Californians Against Hate. “We are frustrated at the fact that it’s yet one more distraction.”

Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, sent a letter to the Maine Ethics Commission and the Attorney General’s Office, raising allegations of money laundering.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the commission, said his staff is interpreting the letter as a request for an investigation. They have forwarded the letter to the Stand for Marriage political action committee, he said. The staff needs to ask Karger for more specific information and charges, said Wayne.

Campaign finance laws for candidates are fairly clear, said Wayne. Any money earmarked for a candidate from one party through an intermediary must be identified back to the source, he said. The laws for PAC reporting aren’t as clear, said Wayne.

Kate Simmons, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the office would aid the Ethics Commission in its work.

“We appreciate Wayne’s responsibilities to the people of Maine, and we will cooperate with them to the extent we can,” said Mutty. “We see all these accusations launched against us as very non-specific, just an attempt to further blur the issues.” Mike Tidmus Blog — Coverage of San Diego Kiss-In

Fred Karger in San Diego Saturday asking support for the Manchester Hotels Global Boycott and Mega Donor Terry Caster’s A-1 Self Storage Boycott. Caster gave $693,000 to Pass Proposition 8!!!

AP Story by Jennifer Dobner



Mormon church becomes target in renewed gay marriage fight

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Mormon church’s vigorous, well-heeled support for Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California last year, has turned the Utah-based faith into a lightning rod for gay rights activism, including a nationwide “kiss-in” Saturday.


The event comes after gay couples here and in San Antonio and El Paso, Texas, were arrested, cited for trespassing or harassed by police for publicly kissing. In Utah, the July 9 trespassing incident occurred after a couple were observed by security guards on a downtown park-like plaza owned by the 13 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

FAITH & REASON: Kisses ‘speak’ for gays confronting church policies

The court case was dismissed, but the kiss sparked a community backlash and criticism of the church.

“I don’t think that kiss would have turned out to be the kiss heard round the world if it were not for Proposition 8,” said Ash Johnsdottir, organizer of the Salt Lake City Kiss-In.

Atali Staffler, a Brigham Young University graduate student from Geneva, Switzerland, said she joined the 200 or so people who filled a downtown amphitheater for the event because she has watched her gay father and many gay friends struggle to find their place.

The 31-year-old, who was raised Mormon but is not active in the church, said the church shouldn’t be involved in Prop. 8.
“I encourage them to promote the values they believe in and to defend their religious principles in advertisements, but civil rights have nothing to do with religious principles,” she said.

Twenty-two people, many of them strangers to one another, gathered under the scorching sun on
Washington’s National Mall to participate in the national smooch. They were gay and straight, couples and singles of all ages, with placards that read “Equal Opportunity Kisser” and “A Kiss is a Not a Crime.”

“This is America. A kiss on the cheek is OK,” said Ian Thomas, 26, of Leesburg, Va., who organized the Washington Kiss-In. “It’s got to be OK. If not, we’re in serious trouble.”

About 50 people, mostly gay and lesbian couples, gathered at Piedmont Park in downtown Atlanta and kissed for about five minutes.

“You think that America is evolving into a gay-friendly nation,” said Randal Smith, 42, “but what happened in Texas and Utah show us it’s still a long way off.”

National organizers say Saturday’s broadly held gay rights demonstrations were not aimed specifically at the Mormon church. But observers say the church’s heavy-handed intervention into California politics will linger and has left the faith’s image tarnished.

“What I hear from my community and from straight progressive individuals is that they now see the church as a force for evil and as an enemy of fairness and equality,” said Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights. Kendell grew up Mormon in Utah. “To have the church’s very deep and noble history telescoped down into this very nasty little image is as painful for me as for any faithful Mormon.”

Troy Williams, who is gay and grew up Mormon, said ending the tension between gays and the church requires mutual acceptance and understanding.

“For both sides to peaceably coexist, we’re all going to have to engage in some very deep soul searching,” said Williams, a Salt Lake City-area activist and host of a liberal radio talk show.

Church insiders say Prop. 8 has bred dissent among members and left families divided. Some members have quit or stopped attending services, while others have appealed to leadership to stay out of the same-sex marriage fight.

But church spokeswoman Kim Farah said Friday that Mormon support for traditional marriage has nothing to do with public relations.

“It’s too easy for those whose agenda is to change societal standards to claim there are great difficulties inside the Church because of its decision to support traditional marriage,” Kim Farah said. “In reality the Church has received enormous support for its defense of marriage.”

Mormonism teaches that homosexual sex is considered a sin, but gays are welcome in church and can maintain church callings and membership if they remain celibate.

The church has actively fought marriage equality legislation across the U.S. since the early 1990s and joined other faiths in asking Congress for a marriage amendment to the Constitution in 2006.

Last year at the urging of church leaders, Mormons donated tens of millions of dollars to the “Yes on 8″ campaign and were among the most vigorous volunteers. The institutional church gave nearly $190,000 to the campaign — contributions now being investigated by California’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

After the vote, many gay rights advocates turned their anger toward the church in protests and marches outside temples that singled out Mormons as the key culprits in restricting the rights of gay couples.
That constituted a setback for the faith, argued Jan Shipps, a professor of religious history and a Mormon expert from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Mormonism, Shipps said, has struggled with its image since its western New York founding in 1830 for a host of reasons, including polygamy.

Leading up to Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympic Winter Games, the faith worked hard to craft a modern, mainstream image, touting its unique American history, culture and worldwide humanitarian work to thousands of reporters.

“This really undercut the Mormon image that had been so carefully nurtured during the Olympics,” Shipps said.

Church representatives don’t discuss public relations strategies or challenges publicly, but at a semiannual conference in April, church President Thomas S. Monson seemed to be clearly feeling a post-Prop. 8 sting.

In an era of “shifting moral footings,” Monson said, “those who attempt to safeguard those footings are often ridiculed, picketed and persecuted.”

That argument doesn’t wash for Linda Stay, whose ancestors were early Mormon converts. Stay said she was doubly transformed by Prop. 8. She and her husband, Steve, finally quit the church — along with 18 other family members and a few close friends — and became gay right activists.

The
St. George woman’s family, which includes two gay children, will play a central role in a documentary film, “8: The Mormon Proposition” currently in production. Stay’s son, Tyler Barrick, married his boyfriend in San Francisco on June 17, 2008, the first day gay marriage was legal in California.

Miami-area filmmaker Reed Cowan said the Stays’ story is a painful representative of many Latter-day Saint families, including his own, that needed to be told.

“It used to be that I could defend my church and my heritage, but what they did here, they crossed the line and they made it very hard to defend their actions,” said Cowan, whose family has cut him off since he began work on the film.

With the gay rights fight far from over, some believe Prop. 8 could continue to frustrate the church’s image for years to come, much like polygamy — the church’s own one-time alternative form of marriage — and a policy on keeping black men out of the priesthood, issues that have lingered years after the practices were abandoned.

“The church is certainly going to survive and thrive, there’s no question about that,” said the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Kendell, who is raising three kids in California with her partner of 16 years. “The issue is, what will be its image in the average American mindset.”

To see the church characterized, because of its own actions, as one in a group of anti-gay religions and as a religion that forces members to choose faith over family is “a tragedy of generational proportion,” she said. “And it seems to me, that it was entirely unnecessary.”

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