New Yorkers protest Mormon campaign against gay marriage

A surprisingly large crowd gathered outside Manhattan's Mormon Temple to protest church members' activity in support of California's gay-marriage ban.

By Gabriel Winant

Published November 13, 2008 4:55PM (EST)

NEW YORK CITY -- If you thought the election of Barack Obama meant the culture wars are over, think again. As outrage in the gay community over California's passage of Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, spreads from city to city, it's taking on a particular target: Mormonism.

At least $20 million for the campaign to amend the state's Constitution came from Mormons, so when New Yorkers gathered Wednesday night to protest the ban, they did so outside the Mormon Temple on the Upper West Side. Estimates of the crowd range from the Associated Press' "hundreds" up to 10,000, from the Gay City News. ABC puts the number at 4,000, which jibes with this reporter's best guess.

The crowd was generally good-natured, but in no mood to absolve the church for the actions of some of its adherents. The chant "Tax this church!" broke out frequently, and was echoed by protesters who spoke to Salon. Eric, 29, a former Mormon, noted that church members regularly tithe into church coffers. "As a 501(c)3, or whatever, nonprofit, I think they should give political counsel. But to tell people how to vote is despicable," said Phillip Guttman. And while it wasn't the church itself that donated the money, most were in agreement that an institutional antigay spirit in Mormonism was behind the church members' instrumental support for Prop 8.

A fair number of protesters also couldn't help taking shots at Mormonism itself, pointing out that it's a religion with its own controversial history of nontraditional marriage. "It's the pot calling the kettle black," said Guttman, who also accused the church of turning a blind eye to child molestation. Of all people, said Matthew, who asked that his last name and age not be printed, Mormons should know better, because of their history of "something that's outside the norm, that they want to be respected." The most common theme for homemade signs was a variant on the "You get five wives, I just want one" theme. Most adorable entry in this category: a kid who looked to be about 5 with a sign saying, "My 2 moms can beat up your 14 wives." (For the record, the official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now opposes polygamy and works against it, though fundamentalist Mormon sects still practice it.)

Despite the calls for taxation and the smattering of signs referring to Mormonism as child molestation and a cult, a hate rally this was not. Though it's common to think of fights over heated cultural issues more as symbolic, "war on Christmas"-type throw-downs, last night's protesters were a reminder that the culture wars won't end because there is, at their core, something to fight over. "I don’t think retaliation is the goal. It's just a question of golden rules," said Matthew. "No one really wants to penalize [Mormons], but they shouldn't penalize anyone else."

(Ed. note: If you're interested in this subject, make sure to read the article elsewhere in Salon today written by newly minted ex-Mormon Jodi Mardesich. Mardesich writes, "I blame it all on the Mormons.")

Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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