Exhibiting familiar gay political orthodoxy, 8: The Mormon Proposition makes a sobering but formulaic study of how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints poured millions of dollars into the successful 2008 campaign to pass the California ballot measure that defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Opening with the theatrical ecstasy of same-sex couples rushing San Francisco City Hall to wed after the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, the documentary partly follows the rollercoaster travails of a pair of ex-Mormon grooms, Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones, who successfully snagged a ceremony (sans appointment) that first day, only to see their union overturned by voters in a contest where 71% of donations came from outside the state. Since Tyler and Spencer are the young, white-male faces of the issue given for us to identify with by directors Reed Cowan and Steven Greenstreet, we’re presumably meant to ache with Tyler when he sobs of his Mormon relatives’ venomous emails and support for Prop 8, “Who can hate this much?”
Tyler, have you been paying attention since the Reagan revolution? If hatred hasn’t yet supplanted money as the mother’s milk of American politics, together they’re usually an unstoppable formula, as seen by the Mormon tactics of having bishops personally call on families to tithe a donation to the Prop 8 fund (under a scarcely veiled threat of expulsion), setting up a front group of right-wing activists to mask the hierarchy’s involvement, and producing TV spots exploiting the presumed ruination of children in a society where some parents aren’t straight. But the interest of what Lenny Bruce called “Religion, Inc.” in reactionary advocacy politics is hardly new, and even if the LDS campaign in California was the most lavish crusade yet (one anti-Prop 8 partisan compares it to “Obama money” with no seeming irony), the vehemence of 8: The Mormon Proposition is obviously connected to the doc’s principal creators’ background in the church. While tragic incidences of Mormon homophobia, including the recounting of electroshock “therapy” given to gay Brigham Young University students and a plague of teen suicides and family estrangements, no time is given to the key failings of the anti-Prop 8 movement in the election.
The documentary is pitched at the politically conscious stratum of the Rainbow Nation who habitually support gay-rights PACs like Human Rights Campaign that were asleep at the switch for much of the ‘08 debate, and who subordinate all LGBT rights issues to marriage equality and a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal. When the film concludes with footage of marriage-equality marches, Tyler Barrick’s words “It’s about love” only preach to the converted. If waiting for bigoted Mormon leaders and hate-mongering legislators to die off is no kind of short-term strategy, neither does howling against the tax-exempt status of politically involved churches or shouting at fundamentalists across protest barricades have pragmatic value; combative and tireless mobilization needs to be prioritized over licking our cultural and spiritual wounds.