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“The Divine Institution of Marriage” An overview of LDS Involvement in Prop 8

May 31, 2013

Professor Kaimipono Wenger addressing the presentation attendees
Moderator Lacy J Lodes ‘08
“The Divine Institution of Marriage” An overview of LDS Involvement in the Propo

By Stephanie Marquez, Development and Alumni Relations Coordinator

On Tuesday, May 28, the TJSL Alumni Association hosted a general MCLE presentation, moderated by Lacy J Lodes ‘08, and presented by Professor Kaimipono Wenger.

The discussion was an overview of Wenger’s recently published article entitled “The Divine Institution of Marriage”: An Overview of LDS Involvement in the Proposition 8 campaign. Several alumni gathered in a TJSL classroom for the presentation while eleven other alumni joined via the internet.

“Professor Wenger did a great job!,” said presentation attendee David Gibbs ‘12. “I felt that Professor Wenger’s presentation was timely and informative; he did a great job of sticking to facts without any perceived bias.”

Professor Wenger gave a brief background on Proposition 8 and the timeline leading up to its passage and the litigation that currently continues. California voters approved Proposition 22, in 2000, which amended state law to permit marriage only between opposite-sex couples. In 2004, the city of San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses to approximately 4,000 same-sex couples.  According to Professor Wenger this eventually provoked the creation of Proposition 8. Proposition 8 was a California ballot proposition that passed in November 2008, which provides that “…only marriage between a man and woman is valid or recognized in California”. 

“It was such a wonderful event,” said moderator Lacy J Lodes.  “I understand there was a bit of controversy, however, the presentation was not meant to be persuasive. This presentation highlights the work of our professor. Professor Wenger discussed his most recent published works.”

According to Professor Wenger, historically the LDS Church did not get heavily involved in political movements; however the 2008 California Proposition 8 was of particular interest because it was considered an issue of morality. Wegner stressed that this issue of morality, among other issues, was one of the reasons the LDS Church decided to launch a campaign supporting the passage of Prop 8. Professor Wenger described a letter that was read to all LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter – Day Saints) Churches named “Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening Families” (Letter of June 9, 2008). Professor Wenger explained that letter was followed by the Press Release of August 13, 2008 titled “The Divine Institution of Marriage”.

“The presentation provided a brief history of the struggle for marriage equality in California and the involvement of the LDS church in that struggle,” said Gibbs. “Professor Wenger did a good job of explaining both the pro and anti-marriage equality positions, including the legal arguments of the LDS church. He parsed each legal argument and discussed whether they were based on sound legal theory. He also explained why calls for removing the LDS church’s tax exempt status are unfounded.”

When discussing the LDS Church member involvement, Professor Wegner quoted the June 2008 letter that was read to all members, “We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman.” According to Professor Wegner church members participated in a variety of publicity efforts such as door-to-door get-out-the-word campaigns. Wegner stated that an estimated $20 million dollars in individual member donations was raised by the LDS Church.

“Following the overview Professor Wenger discussed the validity of the legal claims made in these statements,” said Lodes. ”What I found most enlightening about the presentation was that Professor Wenger was able to give us historical legal and non-legal examples of what LDS experienced when dealing with other various civil rights issues, such as polygamy and African American inclusion. When discussing statements made by individuals on political statement, I believe it is always important to understand what they have dealt with in the past, in order to understand how their opinions are developed and what foundation they feel they have in making such strong statements. At no point did I feel that Professor Wenger was giving us an opinionated or persuasive speech.  I found it to be a very professional historical overview followed by a discussion of validity of legal claims. I was pleased to have a more developed understanding of historical undertakings by the US government with regard to past civil rights issues, and the LDS system as a whole,” said Lodes.

During the presentation Professor Wenger explained there were specific political, sociological, and legal claims raised by the LDS Church and its leaders that related to adoption, taxation, education, and religious freedoms. The major detailed legal claims were that LDS Churches would be forced to marry LGBTQ couples, they would be criminalized for promoting opposite-sex marriage only, adoption agencies could be shut down, and that school children as young as kindergarten age would be taught about same-sex marriage in schools.

Professor Wenger specified that many of these legal claims were not entirely accurate and goes into further details in his article. Lodes ‘08 said, “I found it to be a very professional historical overview followed by a discussion of validity of legal claims. I was pleased to have a more developed understanding of historical undertakings by the US government with regard to past civil rights issues, and the LDS system as a whole.” 

“I understand there was some controversy before the presentation,” said Gibbs. “Professor Wenger mentioned to me that he had been contacted by people asking why his presentation was anti- gay, and from others asking why it was anti-LDS.  I think when people from both sides of a topic are unhappy, there is a good chance the topic is balanced.  I found the presentation to be fair and factual.  In the end, I feel that the controversy was unwarranted.”

Professor Wenger concluded the presentation discussing how there has been a recent shift in the LDS Church and how it has made a few doctrinal changes. Specific changes have been made to its official handbook to state that gay thoughts or feelings are not a sin. The LDS Church is also calling for civility and affirmations of love for LGBTQ individuals, which Wenger described as quite different from the prior rhetoric that was often viewed by many as offensive. According to Professor Wenger’s article, the Prop 8 campaign was a defining moment for the LDS community and that at least for the foreseeable future the current position of the LDS Church stands as “heterosexism with civility”.  

This was the first MCLE at TJSL to offer MCLE credit to those who participated by joining online. Additional MCLE live webinar events could be offered in the future if alumni show an interest in joining from a distance.

Click here to download article.