Some majorities are better than others

burningThere are almost too many stories about California's Proposition 8 to keep up. But let's look at a few dealing with religious groups. The Los Angeles Times ran a story about the Mormon Church feeling heat -- somewhat literally -- over its support of the initiative:

Protesters have massed outside Mormon temples nationwide. For every donation to a fund to overturn Proposition 8, a postcard is sent to the president of the Mormon Church. Supporters of gay marriage have proposed a boycott of Utah businesses, and someone burned a Book of Mormon outside a temple near Denver.

"It's disconcerting to Latter-day Saints that Mormonism is still the religious tradition that everybody loves to hate," said Melissa Proctor, who teaches at Harvard Divinity School.

I'm never sure if it should be mentioned that, for instance, Proctor is LDS. The Boston Globe ran a great story on her and other Mormon scholars earlier this year.

Anyway, the Times piece has this really curious theme that I didn't quite get. Here's the subhead:

The church, which has long sought to be seen as mainstream, joins other religious organizations to back California's gay-marriage ban. But now it has become a political target.

This notion of the LDS seeking to be mainstream is mentioned four times in the piece. Here, for instance:

That push helped the initiative win narrow passage on election day. And it has made the Mormon Church, which for years has striven to be seen as part of the American mainstream, a political target.

The article says that the LDS decision to join with evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox groups to pass the initiative carries "risks and rewards" toward its goal to be considered mainstream. But what could be more mainstream than supporting an initiative that passed with a majority of the vote? What could be more mainstream than supporting an initiative to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman -- something that has passed the 30 states where it has been proposed? The only state to ever decline an opportunity to pass such an initiative has since reconsidered and passed it, meaning that it has a 100 percent success rate?

The only support for the assertion that the LDS joining with all these other religious groups somehow puts it out of the mainstream is that it "could hurt its efforts to expand." But, of course, it could also help its efforts to expand. The article does quote Jan Shipps, another scholar who says that the Mormon Church has a more tolerant stance on homosexuality than some evangelical groups. Other than the "mainstream" problem, in fact, the article does a great job of letting Mormons defend their theology and political involvement.

Downplaying the popular appeal of traditional marriage seems to be a theme of mainstream media coverage. I think it's funny how mainstream publications describe the victory of Barack Obama (with 53% of the national vote) as a landslide but the Proposition 8 victory (with 52% of the statewide vote) is described thusly:

Ever since a slim majority outlawed gay marriage in California, opponents have waged national protests and petitions, urging the judicial system to reconsider the results of the Nov. 4 referendum.

jerry brown linda ronstadtI guess that one percentage point is pretty significant!

Another story submitted by a reader was an LA Times piece about lawsuits attempting to overturn the democratic vote of Californians. The latest lawsuit to overturn Prop. 8 was filed by the California Council of Churches, the Episcopal Bishop of California, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and the Progressive Jewish Alliance. It's interesting that liberal religious groups were mentioned frequently in the run-up to the Prop. 8 vote but have been largely ignored in the aftermath. Even this story, which was about California Attorney General Jerry Brown (yes! Jerry Brown!) officially having to "defend" Proposition 8 despite his vociferous objection to the measure, is brief and doesn't get into any substance.

That Jerry Brown situation reminds me of my former Gov. Roy Romer who was the official defendant in a lawsuit against a Colorado initiative (that prevented any state or local government from granting homosexuals minority status) despite the fact that he marched in the streets the night it passed overwhelmingly. Needless to say the "defense" didn't quite deserve the name and the courts overturned it. Gov. Romer, incidentally, had an intriguing marital situation -- but that's another story entirely. Anyway, the Times story has this paragraph:

The California Supreme Court voted 4 to 3 on May 15 to overturn a state ban on same-sex marriage, but Christian groups gathered enough signatures to place Proposition 8 on the Nov. 4 ballot. It passed with about 52% of the vote.

But Christian groups gathered enough signatures? What bizarre phrasing. Who gets left out in that phrase? The reader who submitted the story noted that the article's tone was "Christian groups" versus the state.

It's also worth noting, in light of some of the extreme targeting of Prop. 8 supporters, that the Los Angeles Times is offering a service to its readers where they can search for donors to both sides of the Prop. 8 battle and find out names, cities, zip codes, and employers. Is that ethical in this environment?

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