The Mormon church’s efforts against homosexuals
This was published March 5, 2000 in the Salt Lake Tribune. With the 2001 campaign in Texas and the recent one performed by the church in Nevada, it seems timely.
TRACY, Calif.-It’s dinner time, and Alan and Yvette Hansen’s home is a quintessential picture of Mormon domesticity. Toddlers scoot from their seats and romp about, pushing a toy vacuum cleaner and toting around dolls.
“My name is James!” shouts a 4-year-old who sneaks away from the dinner table while his mother tries to coax a sibling into taking medication for an ear infection. “My-name-is-Jaaames!!!”
“James,” replies Yvette Hansen, 31, holding an eye dropper over her squirming daughter. “Use your inside voice, please.”
That is an admonishment Alan and Yvette Hansen have been hearing themselves. The couple have been speaking out against California’s controversial “Proposition 22”-perhaps louder than they should, according to their leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Mormon church and many of its roughly 740,000 members in California are on a crusade to pass Tuesday’s ballot initiative, which would ban recognition of gay marriages in the state. The Hansens, who describe themselves as good Mormons, have a problem with that.
And now they have a problem with their church.
“I obviously believe God doesn’t want me to vote ‘yes,’ he wants me to vote ‘no,’ ” says Alan Hansen, who opposes the initiative on grounds it could lead to discrimination against homosexuals and a loss of rights for children of gays.
He also makes it clear he has a problem with his church’s support of the measure, and because of that, he says, church leaders have slapped him with an “informal probation.”
It is not his opposition that is the problem, says Hansen’s ecclesiastical leader, Manteca Stake President Rex Brown.
“People certainly are free to say whatever they’d like to say in regards to Proposition 22,” Brown says. “The real issue is speaking out against the church.”
Brown would not comment on Hansen’s status in the church, citing church policy on confidentiality.
While a majority of California Mormons appear to support both Proposition 22 and their church’s unabashed support for it, the Hansens do not stand alone. Many are eager to whisper to the news media that all is not well among the rank and file. Resentment, they say, roils because the church’s fund-raising and aggressive campaigning for Proposition 22 are forcing them to choose between supporting their church leaders or their homosexual family members and friends.
Just last week, a 32-year-old gay Mormon man put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger on the steps of a Mormon chapel in Northern California. He was profoundly opposed to Proposition 22, though his family insists the suicide was not politically motivated.
Others disagree, but hardly any who are opposed to the church’s official position will allow their names to be used in newspaper stories. They say they fear repercussions and note that when documents were leaked last summer that outlined Mormon leadership’s fund-raising strategies for the campaign, leaders “were all but beating the bushes to get the squealer to come out.”
The chill that has since spread across California’s Mormon landscape has created such a bitter climate that some say they no longer feel free even to privately express their opposition to a measure they believe is discriminatory.
“The issue is so sensitive,” says one member of a Southern California ward. “It’s just pretty doggone touchy and people don’t want to betray themselves to somebody who might report them. In ways, it’s like what I imagined it was like living in Russia, where people acted as the eyes and ears of government.”
So they bite their lips or speak in hushed tones, and most always insist their names not be used for publication.
But not 30-year-old Alan Hansen. He is practically clanging cymbals. “This is the first time I’ve found myself left of center. I’m a pretty conservative guy,” says the marketing manager for an Internet start-up company in San Jose.
The Hansens live in the little city of Tracy, located about 60 miles east of the San Francisco Bay Area. “[But] many think the church is not on the moral high ground here.”
Hansen insists he is not attacking the church, he is simply criticizing its stance on Proposition 22.
He and his wife say they are happily heterosexual, and he says this is the first time he has found himself crossways with his church, which spent more than $1 million in similar, successful ballot initiatives recently held in Alaska and Hawaii.
While church headquarters in Utah reportedly has not given a dime to the California cause, local leaders have for nearly a year prodded members to write checks in support of the campaign. Their donations are not considered tithing, nor are they tax-deductible.
It’s impossible to say how much of the estimated $8 million raised so far for the Yes on 22 campaign has come from Mormons because individual contributors do not list church affiliation on campaign finance forms. The Mormon church is joined in its campaign by other religious organizations, including the Catholic Church, which has given more than $300,000, and the California Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God and several Muslim and Protestant denominations.
Anti-Gay or Pro-Family?
The LDS battle is being waged with more than money. Each Sunday, letters of support are read to California wards, and members are entreated to canvass neighborhoods and put Yes on Proposition 22 signs in their yards. “The ecclesiastical pressure has been enormous,” says one former bishop, who continues to hold a high church leadership position in the Bay Area. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”
Even LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley has weighed in. “We regard it as not only our right, but our duty to oppose those forces which we feel undermine the moral fiber of society,” Hinckley said last fall. “Such is currently the case in California, where Latter-day Saints are working as part of a coalition to safeguard traditional marriage from forces in our society which are attempting to redefine that sacred institution.”
At the same time, Hinckley says the church will continue “to love and honor them [homosexuals] as sons and daughters of God.”
The LDS Church rarely wades into stormy political waters. But, Hinckley and other leaders say, this is a moral issue, and it calls for political activism.
Gay rights advocates question why the church picked Proposition 22 instead of loads of other legislation-child welfare or domestic abuse laws, for example-that could reinforce the fabric of families.
“They [homosexuals] feel like this is in their face and is really anti-gay,” says Gary Watts, a Utah Mormon and father of two gay children. He is co-chair of Family Fellowship, a support group for Mormon parents of gays and lesbians. “Up until I became familiar with the issue about 11 years ago, I probably would be there with everybody else [supporting Proposition 22]. Unless you . . . know someone who is gay or lesbian, it’s very easy to demean them.”
Gay marriage is not currently allowed in California or any other state. Proposition 22 simply ensures that California will not have to recognize gay marriages that might some day be sanctioned in other states. Advocates of the measure note that dozens of states as well as Congress have passed similar measures, and they argue nothing will change for gay couples.
They say the initiative is merely a chance to reaffirm their position on marriage. Opponents say there is nothing positive about a ‘yes’ vote. They call the issue a “wedge” intended to nudge the state’s gay population to the fringe. They contend Proposition 22 could lead to a host of lost rights, including health benefits, hospital visitation privileges, and, most importantly for the Hansens, cause harm to children of homosexuals in areas like inheritances, custodial rights and medical benefits.
It is a personal issue for the Hansens, who have been foster parents to five children. They are in the process of adopting 4-year-old Jessica so she will become legal sister to James and Nicholas, 2, their biological children. They worry Proposition 22 could push homosexual parents out of the the picture at a time when California needs all the parents it can get.
“We need to protect anybody who is willing to take extraordinary steps to take care of kids,” says Alan Hansen. And, say the Hansens, sexuality is not a factor in determining who is a good parent.
“As foster parents, we’ve seen plenty of married people in traditional families raising their kids badly. We’ve raised their kids for them,” adds Yvette Hansen. “I don’t care what [homosexuals] do in their bedroom. If it’s a sin, it’s between them and God.”
“Is it more important,” presses Alan Hansen, “to call someone a sinner than it is to protect children?”
Politicking at the Pulpit:
The Hansens’ quiet convictions bubbled into the public recently after Alan Hansen wrote a letter to the local newspaper criticizing both the proposition and the Mormon church’s stumping at the pulpit.
“When I attend church, I go there hoping to get close to God. I go to study the life of Jesus and to learn to live like him. I go to repent of my sins and rededicate myself to righteous living. I go to church to improve myself,” he wrote in a letter to the editor that appeared in the Tracy Press. “When my church tells me how to vote or where to spend my political dollars, it takes away from my opportunity to worship and consider God in my life.”
While Hansen is not surprised those words ruffled church leadership, he contends they should be willing to tolerate his dissent. After all, he notes, the church has entered the political debate. And he is just debating those politics.
“The church told members we don’t have to vote ‘yes,’ ” Hansen told a reporter for the Tracy Press. “Well, that means I can vote ‘no,’ and I can talk about my reasons.”
Others are also starting to speak out.
“I’m disappointed that we are supporting a proposition that is so divisive, that causes parents who have homosexual children to be really put in a situation of having to choose between the church and their family,” says Richard Rands, a Mormon who lives in the Bay Area.
“This is such a divisive issue for families, which is very ironic because families are at the core of the church’s concern here,” says Rands’ wife, Janet.
Other local church leaders acknowledge the issue is at the root of some discord, but they say support for the measure and the church’s position on it have been overwhelming.
“When the prophet [Hinckley] speaks, we listen,” says Brent Newbold, a Mormon bishop and owner of a dry cleaning store in the Sacramento area. “It’s caused people to make a decision — [to state] where they stand.”
And, says Newbold, nine out of 10 in his ward stand by their church. At least one woman in his ward, however, quit attending because of the church’s position. “I don’t call her in and give her a hard time,” says Newbold. “Hopefully, she’ll come back.”
But a steady trickle of Californians may be leaving the church permanently because of the issue. Kathy Worthington, a Utah gay-rights activist who is coordinating a drop-out campaign, claims she has been in contact with more than 300 people who want to stop being Mormon.
A former Mormon herself, Worthington says she has copies of more than 100 notarized letters sent to church headquarters by people who are trying to sever their ties with their religion because of Proposition 22.
“This [issue] seems to be the last straw for a lot of people,” she says.
Church spokesman Michael Purdy said he could not provide information regarding Worthington’s assertion.
But Janet Rands has seen enough to know that some harm already has been done. “I don’t think anyone sat down with the intention of driving people away, but I do see that,” says Rands, a psychologist. “The sad thing is, this affects their kids, a generation who won’t be learning their Bible songs, who won’t be reading the Book of Mormon.”
That could include the Hansen children.
Alan Hansen, a lifelong Mormon who served a mission in Japan and was born while his parents attended church-owned Brigham Young University, says he has been stripped of his teaching position in the church for being so outspoken on the issue and could face harsher penalties.
“The bishop has said I need to make a public apology for my comments,” he says. “I haven’t said anything that is not the truth, and a person should not be punished for telling the truth.”
His wife frets he may be on the road to excommunication, but he’s not so scared that he will stop lobbying for an issue he holds sacred.
“I was asked-if it came down to [my position on] Proposition 22 v. my church membership, which would I choose,” he says. “I’d choose both. If I couldn’t choose, it would be out of my hands. It wouldn’t be my choice.”