A much talked about film premiered this week at the Sundance film festival, detailing the Mormon church’s involvement in the passing of Proposition 8 in California. The proposition amended the state’s constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
The effect of “8: The Mormon Proposition” in Utah has been, in a way, exactly what might have been expected: Most people just don’t care. Many Mormon church members here may not care about this film because they got what they wanted – the stalling and even reduction of rights for the LGBT community. “8: The Mormon Proposition” is just an afterthought and a critique of that victory.
They should care, though. Often, religious organizations get a pass on criticism of their activities simply because they are, in fact, religious organizations, and for no other reason. No one wants to criticize the beliefs of someone else and be painted as a bigot or a godless heathen. But, if this film is accurate, then there are some real criticisms that deserve to be mounted against the state’s, and this school’s, hegemonic faith, and they should be – just as with so many other nonreligious bodies like corporations, schools, or governments.
The LDS church has denounced the film as being biased, lacking in truth, and said it does not further the necessary and real debate about this issue. This is strange, since it is the first feature-length film to address the issue at all, meaning it could actually be the starting point of the debate. Of course it has an agenda, as any participant in a robust debate should have – being called biased is simply a back-handed way of acknowledging the film’s legitimate viewpoint.
Frankly, this film touches on and has implications for several serious issues – the constitutionality of same-sex marriages, the role a religious organization has in the political sphere, church and state issues, and the place of LGBT members within the LDS church itself. All of these are issues that press continually on citizens of Utah. Not only are debates on each one of them necessary, but also solutions to the problems that they bring up.
Most especially, these issues are desperately important for many college-age citizens, who are coming to grips with how they live their lives. Students here, at Happy Valley’s sole repository of college counter culture, are at a place where they are likely to be at their most politically and intellectually active. Further, now is the time that many young LGBT people are coming to grips with themselves, and are beginning to think about coming out.
In other words, this film has the potential to lead to some serious discussions and serious actions. Already “8: The Mormon Proposition” has had some small effect on local politics, notably an ongoing black eye for state Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who is seen in the film making extremely (and unsurprisingly) bigoted remarks about gays. He went as far as to call same-sex marriage “the greatest threat to America going down,” which with minor punctuation changes could be a pretty good title for another kind of film. As a result he has been stripped of two committee chairmanships by Republican leadership.
Unfortunately, it probably won’t mean much for most of the state. But what the film will do, hopefully, is impassion LGBT citizens who so recently gained and so quickly lost rights in California to try even harder, and refuse to be out maneuvered by an admittedly well-greased religious organization.