A little education: Mormon Edition

Over at the Slog today, Dan Savage received a letter from a self professed Mormon. Read the whole thing. While I applaud the emailer for supporting LGBT equality personally, I find it slightly ridiculous that they don’t know the official Church teachings of their own faith on homosexuality.

It’s useful first, to understand just what the book of Mormon says about homosexuality, so we can understand their position in that context. In the book of Alma (39:5), it states that sexual transgressions are a heinous sin second only to the shedding of innocent blood. And the LDS translation of the ever popularly used Leviticus 18:22 even has a subsequent verse (18:23) which indirectly links homosexuality with beastiality. Furthermore, according to the Doctrine of the Covenants, one can only reach the Celestial kingdom if they are engaged in the “sacred bonds of marriage” (of course we know they mean this only in the context of heterosexual marriage).

This teaching is unfortunately what we would expect to find in any religious text that claims itself as a continuation of Judeo-Christian thought. But how did the early Church handle homosexuality? We need look no further than Michael D. Quinn, whose 1996 book Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth Century Americans: a Mormon Example, sheds light on this very issue. According to Quinn, one of the first (and few) publicly known cases of the Early Church dealing with sexuality falling outside hetero normative assumptions involved John C. Bennett. He was a relatively high ranking member of the early Church. But he was soon caught committing adultery and was accused of homosexuality in conjunction. He initially repented, but the behavior and rumors of his behavior continued and so he was excommunicated, cast out of the Church and stripped of public office. We don’t find much in the way of official church dealings, teachings or literature until we reach the mid 20th Century; and that’s when things start to look very ugly.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, we see the Church responding more forcefully, and thus can say much more about their teachings. During this time period, the Church President was David A. McKay. And according to the book, Spencer W. Kimball: Twelfth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the official reaction to a spate of gay men being arrested in Idaho and Utah was to push for more literature and teachings that promised that “homosexuality can be cured.” This was of course (and unfortunately) in line with mainstream psychiatric thought which at the time deemed homosexuality an illness. But nonetheless, the response from Church leaders is revealing as it speaks to a campaign the waged well beyond when most of the psychiatric community had shifted away from the antiquated and scientifically wrong assumptions they had made earlier (more on that later). This effort, first by McKay then by Kimball, led to the creation of a pamphlet produced in 1970 titled Hope for Transgressors. According to the pamphlet, Church leaders should assist “homosexual transgressors” by reciting verses, appealing to reason and encouraging them to disassociate themselves from gay lovers, acquaintances, etc.

Not but 5 years after the publication of this manual, Boyd K. Packer, President of the Twelve Apostles (a position he still holds) made a speech titled To Young Men Only in which he stated this:

There is a falsehood that some are born with an attraction to their own kind, with nothing they can do about it. They are just “that way” and can only yield to those desires. That is a malicious and destructive lie. While it is a convincing idea to some, it is of the devil. No one is locked into that kind of life. From our premortal life we were directed into a physical body. There is no mismatching of bodies and spirits. Boys are to become men –masculine, manly men –ultimately to become husbands and fathers. No one is predestined to a perverted use of these powers.

As the LGBT community well knows, the first shift in the scientific and psychiatric community came in the APA’s official shift on homosexuality in 1973; when they removed it as an “illness.” This is a moment that many in the anti-gay crowd, like pseudo-psychologist Paul Cameron, lament. And it would seem that much like anti-gay quacks of Cameron’s ilk who refuse to see the evidence in front of them, so too does the LDS Church.

In 1992, the Church published an official pamphlet meant to help leadership deal with those who have “homosexual problems” (pamphlets wording). This was done in response to the World Health Organization finally removing homosexuality from its list of diseases and disorders. The pamphlet is titled Understanding and Helping Those With Homosexual Problems. The language of the pamphlet makes clear that despite the fact that all evidence points to sexual orientation not being a conscious decision and not being something that can be “cured,” that the LDS Church believed that one could “overcome homosexuality”. A choice passage reads like this:

No general agreement exists about the causes of such problems. It is important for you as a Church leader to help members understand that regardless of the causes, these problems can be controlled and eventually overcome. Members can be helped to gain self-mastery, adhere to gospel standards of sexual purity and develop meaningful, appropriate relationships with members of both sexes.

The next section after this very quote is entitled “Helping Members Overcome Homosexual Problems”. In that section, they advise that in order for “change” to occur, the person coming to the leader for guidance must “understand the seriousness of the transgression” and be sincere in their beliefs that they can change their ways.

Since then, the Church has made an effort to tone down some of the earlier rhetoric and has stated, more than once, that they don’t concern themselves with the “debate” of whether homosexuality is innate or not. While they may “not concern themselves” with this, it’s quite clear that none of the previous teachings have been overturned. Notwithstanding the fact that there is evidence that some gays and lesbians in the Church have on occasion been subjected to horrifying conversion therapy that included electroshock to the privates and thus its plainly clear that they still believe the same things they were saying four decades ago; The Church still teaches that homosexuality can be “overcome” and that gays and lesbians should either remain celibate or be engaged in a heterosexual marriage. In an interview in 2007, Dallin Oaks and Lance Wickman laid bare the fact that the Churches position, despite some leaders saying they’re more “open” and “welcoming”, has yet to change in any measurable way. They compare homosexuality to alcoholism and violent tendencies, suggesting that one cannot only control their behavior and feelings, but work to “change” themselves to overcome it.

They of course claim that their treatment of the LGBT members of their congregation is no different than how they treat heterosexuals who engage in “sexual transgressions”. This is a lie in reality. Not only does the Handbook prescribe potentially harsher punishment for potential missionaries (they can be barred from going on a mission for gay or lesbian relations), but since the Church takes the position that heterosexual marriage is the only union that is pure; they’re asking LGBT congregants to either suppress a core part of their being (or worse, try and fail to change it) or force themselves into relationships that aren’t natural to them and this inflict untold misery not just on them but on the family they try to build.

It’s no wonder then, that despite the fact that the Church tries to say its open and welcoming to all, that many of those who are LGBT feel rejected by the Church. They ARE rejected by the Church. That’s the simple truth of it. It’s not just true in terms of their thinking and teaching, their actions are evidence as well. While they support common sense anti-discrimination laws now (they didn’t back in the days of ERA), they’ve been engaged in a stealth campaign against gay marriage dating all the way back to Hawaii in ’93 when the Supreme Court ruled that discrimination against gays and lesbians in issuing marriage licenses was unconstitutional. The LDS contributed to an organizational effort that ended up succeeding in overturning the ruling via a Bill that outlawed marriage equality. In 2004, the Church hierarchy officially endorsed an Amendment to the US Constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman. And of course in 2008, they helped orchestrate and fund the Prop 8 campaign that overturned marriage equality in California. Thus, Prop 8 wasn’t some outlier. The Church has made it well known where they stand, both in relation to their views on homosexuality in general and how that translates into how they think gays and lesbians should be force to live.

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“If we let them have rights, who’s next?!”

Sometimes I find myself completely speechless at the stupidity on parade in the anti-gay camp. It’s not that I’m shocked that it’s being said; we’ve all heard this rhetoric a million times over. It’s that I simply cannot wrap my brain around how anyone could say some of the stuff I’ve heard over the years with a straight force (or worse yet… actually believing it).

Enter Tanya Ditty. She’s the Georgia State Director for the anti-gay Concerned Women for America. Just a few days ago, she was testifying in front of the House Judiciary Subcommittee in Georgia for a bill that would expand state employment protections to include sexual orientation when she said this:

DITTY: There are 23 sexual orientations that fit under this definition and if this bill became law, then what we would be protecting for public employees is not only heterosexuality, bisexuality, pedophilia, transsexuality, transvestitism, I’m not going to read them all. Voyeurism, exhibitionism, feetism, zoophilia, necrophilia, klismaphilia and the list goes on. I teach in the public school system and I wonder if this would impact the public school system. And we have parents who bring their kids to school everyday and expect the school to protect them. And what’s going to protect our children if someone that is a pedophiliac comes in and gets a teaching job, is a bus driver, is a custodian, and they can be people that just want to prey on people and they will be protected with this law.

Apparently, the Concerned Women for America spend their time concerned about things that can’t happen and only exist in the Fundy LaLa land they’ve made for themselves in the empty space where their brain should be. Notwithstanding the fact that things like “feetism” (WTF?), klismaphilia, voyeurism, exhibitionism, etc. are NOT sexual orientations; a school can’t hire Pedophile because child molestation is a federal crime and sex offenders aren’t even allowed to live within a 1000 feet of a school, much less allowed to work there. But that didn’t stop her from trotting out this bald faced lie and once again pulling the old trick of trying to conflate homosexuality with pedophilia.

And what’s worse? The Committee tabled the bill. I doubt it was wholly due to Ditty’s asinine testimony, but when it comes to trying to uphold a system that oppresses an entire class of people it would seem fear mongering from the CWA never hurt.

Ken Hutcherson goes crazy…. Again….

In a Q&A over at the Antioch Bible Church website, Hutcherson, one of the most vocal opponents of Marriage Equality in the state of Washington, goes off the deep end (do we expect any less). We’re sadly used to the opposition brining up ridiculous arguments against Marriage Equality by trotting out slippery slope fallacies that it will lead to legalization of polygamy; but this has to be the first time I’ve seen ANYONE claim this:

Q: Where do Washington state Muslims and Mormons stand on “one man, one woman?”

A: They are on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Mormons are against anything except one man/one woman.  Muslims have come out in favor of same sex marriage, so they can usher in Sharia Law which allows polygamy.

That’s right, the Radical Islamic agenda rears it ugly head again! It’s a fixture of Evangelical Conservatism to see Muslim radicals hiding in your Cheerios in the morning, but this takes that a step further; especially considering the fact that many Conservatives have used their support for regime change in a country like Iran (which is very anti-gay) as an example of how they’re actually in favor of gay rights.

As usual, the key part of the Q&A however is the continued insistence that Marriage equality would threaten religious freedom. This is a complete lie. Churches can choose who they marry now (Ex: A Catholic church can choose not to marry a couple if one of them is not a Catholic) and that won’t change when (hopefully) this bill becomes law; and since Churches are not private businesses subject to anti-discrimination laws the canard about them getting into legal trouble for not hiring gay members of the congregation is complete crap. I don’t doubt that Hutcherson might actually believe this given his track record of insane statements; but we cannot allow our opponents to spread these ridiculous falsehoods anymore than they already have.

Referendum language released, McKenna uses opposition language

Over at the Slog, Eli Sanders posted the language for the Referendum proposed by McKenna. The result: Not good.

Ballot Title
The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage [and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill.]

This bill would redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry, modify existing domestic-partnership laws, allow clergy to refuse to solemnize or recognize marriages and religious organizations to refuse to accommodate marriage celebrations.

Should this bill be

___ Approved

___ Rejected

Ballot Measure Summary
The bill would redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry, apply marriage eligibility requirements without regard to gender, and specify that laws using gender-specific terms like “husband” and “wife” include same-sex spouses. Clergy could refuse to solemnize or recognize any marriages. Religious organizations and religiously affiliated educational institutions could refuse to accommodate weddings. The measure would not affect licensing of religious organizations providing adoption, foster-care, or child-placement. Domestic partnerships for seniors would be preserved.

Notice the inclusion of “redefine marriage.” If this language sticks, it could be a victory for the anti-gay forces fighting marriage equality. Washington United For Marriage will have a chance to take this to Court to challenge the language, and we can only hope they manage to get this language stricken from the ballot measure.

Frank Vandersloot, Idaho Billionaire, gets called out by Glenn Greenwald

Many people might not know his name, but Frank Vandersloot is about to be on the lips of many more people after Glenn Greenwald, a blogger and former lawyer who writes at Salon, published this article. You should click that link and read the whole thing.

You might ask yourself; what does this article have to do with gay rights? Well, as Glenn mentions (and as a matter of public record), Vandersloot once participated in a campaign against the “It’s Elementary” documentary aired on Idaho Public Television in 1999 because he believed it would “raise curiosities they (children) shouldn’t have at those ages” (children added for clarification about whom he was referring to). The quote from Vadersloot in that Spokesman-Review article clearly implies that being gay is a learned behavior; a position that is wholly unsurprising when we understand that Vandersloot is a devout Mormon. As Glenn also mentions in the article, Belinda Vandersloot (Frank’s wife) also contributed 100,000$ in support of Proposition 8.

So, I think it’s quite clear what the issue here is: Vandersloot is using his power and money to silence critics. Full stop. And many of those critics happen to be members of the LGBT community (Profiled in Glenn’s article is Jody May-Chang, an Idaho LGBT activist in Boise who is being targeted by Vandersloot and his team of lawyers for the “crime” of speaking out against Vandersloot’s views). That’s not okay. We shouldn’t allow those with wealth and power like Vandersloot to use it to silence those who disagree with the PUBLIC stances he has taken on relevant issues.

I’m asking that many publish this article, and link to Glenn’s article as well, in hopes that we can stand up to someone like Vandersloot and show solidarity to people Peter Zuckerman, the reporter who was outed by Vandersloot and faced hell for it; May-Chang who is currently receiving emails and phone calls threatening her to take down information that is public and not in any way defamatory. You have a right to pursue your own policy preferences if you wish Mr. Vandersloot, but you don’t have a right to escape public criticism for the stances you take.

The state of the Anti-Marriage Equality camp in Washington State

It’s always interesting to read about the power struggles going on (mostly behind the scenes) within the anti-gay and anti-marriage equality camps all around this country. Well Washington is no different. It would seem some on the anti-marriage equality side are not happy that Backholm of the Family Policy Institute (The Washington State Branch of the Family Resarch Council) decided to file for the Referendum alone (with the aid of NOM). Cue Gary Randall with Faith and Freedom Network:

However, I am disappointed that other leaders in the state were not included as signers on the referendum.

It does make a difference. It is important. It can be very important. Some will remember Referendum 65, some years ago, and the public fight that followed between two individuals. It was not productive. Frankly, it was embarrassing.

I, along with many others who have been planning and working toward the effort to overturn SB 6239, have advocated that Representative Matt Shea, Senator Val Stevens and Pastor Ken Hutcherson should have been included or have even been the only signers on the Referendum.

This comes in the wake of the re-branding of “Stand For Marriage Washington” into “Preserve Marriage Washington”. As Jeremy Hooper over at the LGBT blog Good As You put forward, this re-branding effort wasn’t merely a name change so much as it was a way to kick aside (and silence) the more extreme elements of the anti-gay side here in Washington State:

But should there be, it’s a certainty that some outside group like Schubert Flint Public Affairs will step in and take the reins of the thing. And when they do? The more extreme voices, no matter how engaged they’ve been in the past, have a way of being tucked away in a closet. This happens every time (See Mike Heath in Maine circa 2009; Randy Thomasson during Prop 8; Ron Baity in North Carolina this year; etc.).

In Washington state, my they’ll-hide-’em-away money’s on longtime voice of hostility Ken Hutcherson. While he’s been the most prominent face of Washington’s various anti-gay efforts, both in state and nationally, Hutcherson has proven a willingness to say and do whatever he damn well pleases, pragmatism be damned. For instance, there was that recent example where he compared his Governor to John Wilkes Booth. There have been accusations of gays supposedlytrying to turn Christians into “the new negro.” Hutcherson’s also committed the cardinal “pro-family” sin of turning on his own, vocally accusing conserva-giant Focus on The Family — major player in state marriage efforts — of going too soft. These are the kinds of things that don’t play well when the bright lights of a campaign come around.

And it would seem Hooper is right.  Hutcherson certainly could be said to be alluding to the betrayal of being swept aside by those in his own movement when he wrote this:

I expect to be disliked by the non-believing world but when you are disliked by believers….

If we do not learn this truth in Washington State very soon and have the church work in unity then we will fall for the trick of light fighting light which leads to defeat, instead of light standing against the darkness which leads to victory.

As Laurel Ramseyer at Pam’s House Blend also notes, a news story over at Rueters refers to Backholm as the “head of the Preserve Marriage Washington Coalition”. This would seem to confirm what Hooper was saying; that Backholm (with NOM’s help) has pushed the more vocal elements of the movement aside in hopes that the tainted past of someone like Hutcherson (who has a history of putting his foot in his mouth that is unparalleled) wont sink their ship. Although I’m not sure that Backholm’s history is all that much better, as Ramseyer has been demonstrating in her posts.

The Rueters article also notes that Stephen Pidgeon, one of the former members of the Stand For Marriage Washington Coalition with Backholm (and a former ally with Backholm at Protect Marriage Washington when the R-71 battle was heating up in 2009) has created his own coalition called….. “Protect Marriage Washington” (They could use some creativity counseling with these names). Unlike Backholm, Pidgeon’s coalition is vying to get an Initiative (I-1192: Which would redefine marriage as between only one man and one woman) on the ballot for November. And it doesn’t sound like Backholm and Company on are board to the same extent that Pidgeon is:

“In principle, everyone’s trying to accomplish the same things,” Backholm, 33, said. “But it would be amazingly confusing.”

…..

Pidgeon, who has spent weeks haggling with state officials over the final ballot language for I-1192, said he supports the referendum but argued his initiative can get started sooner and has broader implications than responding to a specific law.

It isn’t much of long shot to say that it’s unlikely that Pidgeon will get enough signatures to get his Initiative on the ballot. It would require at least 241,154 signatures to be delivered July 6 (and of course, at least that number would have to survive the verification process). NOM and Backholm know this, and that’s why despite pretending as though they “support” Pidgeon to a certain degree, they won’t even begin to think about throwing the deep pockets that a group like NOM can tap into behind the Initiative effort. In short, the anti-gay side isn’t as unified as they once (perhaps) were and some of the more outspoken anti-gay activists’ are being sidelined while Backholm and NOM try to clean up the mess their side has created with their history of horrid rhetoric. That could be good news for Marriage Equality Proponents in this State.

If this is any indication of the way things will be going in the future, this isn’t the last time we’re bound to see some of this spill out into public. I’ll try to keep you all as up to date as I can on this ongoing shuffle and bustle in the anti-gay movement here in Washington as we move closer into the closing stretch of the fight over marriage equality.

Groups challenge India Supreme Court ruling decriminalizing homosexuality

Around 3 years ago, the Supreme Court in India made a ruling that overturned a colonial era British law that mandated up to 10 years in prison for “unnatural offences”. It was Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and it made homosexual acts illegal. Well, some groups are (still) not happy with this ruling and are asking the Supreme Court of India to re-examine their decision:

On the second day of hearing on 16 petitions challenging the Delhi high court verdict decriminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults in private, a bench of justice GS Singhvi and justice SJ Mukopadhya said homosexuality should be viewed in the context of changing society.

It seems doubtful that the Supreme Court would overturn their decision, especially given the tone the Justices took with respects to the issue. But this is still something to watch out for.

Part of what is interesting about this battle however, is that it really is true that anti-gay attitudes were (to some extent) exported from Europe to colonies during the age of colonialism. We saw this take place in Africa perhaps more visibly than anywhere else. Before European colonists carved up the continent and imposed their values on natives, there wasn’t much in the way of rampant anti-gay bigotry in many areas of Africa. That’s not to say every African society viewed homosexuality the same way, but the imposition of harsh, cruel punishments in legal codes and the wave of homophobia that has gripped parts of that continent are remnants of colonialism just the same as the part of the Penal Code in India that was struck down was a remnant of British colonialism; imposed on India’s native population to “Christianize” them. This is just one of the many horrific legacies that still clings on in many places as a result of the European Colonial legacy.