Unpacking the Vitriol Behind the 2004 and 2008 Gay Marriage Bans
After the state of Utah made its defense of Amendment 3 (gay marriage ban) to the federal appeals court this month, the Utah Attorney General told the gay couples who are suing for the right to marry, “it’s not personal by any means.”1
I can appreciate that in recent years those who stand opposed to gay marriage, including (especially!) the LDS Church, have toned down their rhetoric. There is a clear effort from people of faith to express compassion for gay people and to fight bullying and suicide. But for the families whose marriages are jeopardized, this is most certainly personal. I fear that attempts to appear nice or compassionate towards gays such as this are actually attempts to mask the fact that same sex couples are literally hurt by anti-gay legislation.
One of the many points equal marriage litigation hinges on is whether or not states that enacted anti-gay marriage laws did so with “animus” towards gay people. If voters in these states acted with malice towards one class of people, then that legislation should be reviewed with heightened scrutiny.
I lived in Utah as a student at Brigham Young University when Amendment 3 was passed and when the LDS Church fought hard to pass Proposition 8 in California. I can say with certainty that these laws were passed with animus towards gay people. The state of Utah may use all the nice “it’s not personal” language of 2014, but I still remember the language of 2004 and 2008. It was animus. It was hate.
During the campaign for Prop 8 I was constantly bombarded by messages telling me I was inferior and immoral. People compared homosexuality to bestiality, pedophilia, and alcoholism. People reduced the desire for gays to marry to uncontrollable lust and suggested their motives were dishonest because homosexuality, they said, is inherently promiscuous. People drew lines in the sand and put all those in favor of Prop 8 on the side of God and the prophets, and those against it (or their sympathizers) on the side of Satan and his armies. War imagery from the Book of Mormon was used to paint those in favor of gay marriage as villains and those against it as heroes. They used words like, “sick,” “evil,” “enemy to God,” “unrighteous,” “sinful,” “deceived,” “wrong,” “disgusting,” and “unworthy.” The messages came from booths set up in the campus commons, literature distributed at school and church, editorials in all the newspapers, signs in dorm windows, conversations with loved ones, overheard conversations between strangers, and of course, the Internet.
Facebook was one of the main vehicles for malicious rhetoric, and not by accident. BYU students’ participation in the push for Prop 8 was encouraged, even facilitated, by the highest authorities of the LDS Church. In October, Apostles M. Russell Ballard and Quentin L. Cook held a training seminar for members of the Church in California. The seminar was also broadcast to BYU, and though only California residents were told they should attend, everyone was invited. In addition to sharing some Yes on 8 talking points, the two apostles gave specific instructions, asking Church members to each spend more than four hours a week and to donate as much money and time as they could to the cause. Elder Ballard addressed the young adults, especially BYU students:
“You are critical in this effort because so many of you are connected. . . You can engage, share meaningful stories in the words that your friends and neighbors will understand. Blog, post videos, and join the conversations through these new media tools.”2
Elder Ballard went on to specifically list texting, blogs, podcasts, Twitter, and Facebook as specific tools people could use to promote prop 8, then Elder Cook gave this charge to young adults on the Internet:
“It is my hope that you will engage. It is my hope that you will go viral.”3
The barrage of anti-gay messages I experienced were not the rogue actions of extremists. These were regular, educated people doing what they were told to do.
Recently I went digging through my Facebook archives to find examples of the hateful Yes-on-Prop 8 comments on my wall and in my news feed during the viral campaign. There was a lot that I remember that I couldn’t find. Much of the postings that were on other people’s walls have been deleted–evidence that their own rhetoric on gay marriage has changed. Many of those who were most vehemently against gay families have either blocked me, or I have blocked them, and so I can’t access those posts either. But I was still able to find some examples of what I had to read on Facebook every day for two or three months. I am including some of these screenshots in an image gallery at the end of this post.
As the courts decide whether or not to overturn anti-gay legislation, it’s important to remember the campaigns that enacted these laws to begin with. Proposition 8 was especially cruel, and that cruelty is why the courts must review these unfair laws with heightened scrutiny. I am happy that the LDS Church has changed the conversation and softened its tone, but that does not change the traumatic campaigns they initiated in 2004 and 2008. Those of us who bear those scars still remember the animus of anti-gay marriage legislation.
- Dennis Romboy, “Same-sex Marriage in Utah now in Federal Judges Hands,” Deseret News, April 10, 2014.
- M. Russell Ballard, “The Divine Institution of Marriage Broadcast,” LDS Church, October 8, 2008.
- Quentin Cook, “The Divine Institution of Marriage Broadcast,” LDS Church, October 8, 2008.