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Mormons working to overturn Md. marriage law

Church denies direct role, but leaked email details efforts

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LDS Temple (photo from wikimedia by Joe Ravi)

Members of the Mormon Church in Maryland are working to overturn the state’s recently passed marriage equality law, according to an email obtained by the Washington Blade.

In the message dated March 29 sent to D.C. and Southern Maryland-area church members, the writer states that a coalition of inter-denominational Maryland churches has joined to place a referendum before voters in November on the marriage law before it goes into effect.

“We need to collect approximately 200,000 signatures by the end of May,” the email states. “We are looking for people to gather signatures within the LDS community.”

LDS refers to the church’s formal name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those involved with the effort have told the Blade the message isn’t an official message from church leadership either at the local level or from its headquarters in Salt Lake City, but is rather part of a local ad hoc effort to challenge Maryland’s marriage law.

The email says the “important effort” is being led by Martha Schaerr, an LDS member who’s organizing signature collection within Montgomery County and within the church. Another named organizer in the email is Teressa Wallace.

An informed source said the email was sent to the entire congregation in D.C. and Southern Maryland, which consists of between 500 and 1,500 church members and former members. According to the source, the author is Wallace, one of the named organizers in the email and wife of one of the junior pastors of the congregation.

Only 55,736 valid signatures are needed to force a ballot measure in Maryland. The stated goal of obtaining 200,000 signatures is likely an attempt to over deliver in case the validity of some signatures is challenged.

According to the email, church members interested in organizing training sessions are required to attend a 30-minute training session, “due to the stringent Maryland laws concerning referendums.”

“There will be several training sessions offered, but if transportation to them is a problem for you, a trainer would be happy to meet with you at a more convenient time and location,” the email states.

The email says the Mormon Church is “neutral on matters of party politics,” but asks that members take an active role in civic duties.

“The Church does encourage its members to play a role as responsible citizens, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections, and becoming engaged in the political process in an informed and civil manner,” the email states. “Please consider helping with this very important effort. Every signature is important and every little bit helps!”

In an email to the Blade, Schaerr said she’s organizing against the Maryland marriage law not out of any guidance or pressure from the church, but on her own accord.

“My understanding of the religious principles taught by  the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in ‘The Proclamation on the Family,’ the scriptures and numerous statements by church leaders has informed my conscience, and I am seeking to follow my conscience,” the email states.

Schaerr also expressed concern that the same-sex marriage law in Maryland would stifle those who want to speak out against homosexuality.

“I believe the Maryland law extends beyond providing rights to gay couples and actually seeks to silence religious objections to same sex relationships by changing the definition of marriage,” she said.

A history of anti-gay politics

The LDS member named in the email as leading the effort, Schaerr, who failed in her bid to win a seat in 2010 on the Montgomery County School Board, isn’t a stranger to anti-gay activism.

In 2007, Schaerr was reportedly a board member of the Fairfax, Va.-based Family Leader Network, an organization that — along with Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays — led the effort against a Montgomery County law instituting lessons for 8th through 10th grade students on safe-sex practices that included gays.

According to the Gazette, Schaerr downplayed her involvement in the lawsuit against the curriculum while pursuing a seat on the school board two years ago, reportedly saying other board members wouldn’t support efforts to change the curriculum.

In an op-ed submitted to the Washington Post at the time she was running for the seat, Schaerr disputed the notion she’s anti-gay. However, she said she disagreed that schools should teach homosexuality is “inevitably innate” because she said there are other views to the contrary — even though those views are disputed by major medical and psychiatric professional associations.

“If we’re going to talk about anal sex in a health class or a condom video, it’s irresponsible not to warn students — especially gay students — about the medical evidence showing the heightened health risks of anal sex compared with vaginal sex, even with a condom,” Schaerr said.

Wallace, the other named person in the email, was also involved in the fight against the curriculum. According to an LDS publication called Meridian Magazine, Wallace objected to the gay-inclusive Montgomery County sex ed curriculum, and attended a school board meeting while holding a sign expressing her opinion. The article is no longer on the magazine’s website, but has been reposted on a Mormon online forum.

Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, said she isn’t surprised that Mormon Church officials are playing a role in the effort to rescind the Maryland marriage law, but doesn’t think the LDS Church is the lead organization in the effort.

“We were not aware of this email, however the Mormon Church has been very vocal in its opposition to marriage equality so it is not surprising,” Evans said. “We have no reason to believe they are taking a lead role in efforts to overturn the Civil Marriage Protection Act in Maryland.”

Church disavows involvement

The Mormon Church is disavowing any involvement in the organizational effort proposed in the email.

Dale Jones, an LDS spokesperson, said the church has no direct involvement in the effort to overturn the marriage law in Maryland.

“While the Church’s position in support of traditional marriage is well established, the effort in Maryland is not being organized through the Church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City,” Jones said. “Members, of course, will make their own decisions regarding their involvement in local issues.”

But the message recalls the Mormon Church’s lead role in passage of Proposition 8 in California in 2008. The First Presidency of the Church, or its governing body, publicly backed the initiative and reportedly encouraged members during church services to take an active role in contributing money and get-out-the-vote efforts to support the ban’s passage.

According to the New York Times, Protect Marriage, the organization responsible for Prop 8, estimates that nearly half of the $40 million in donations to the initiative came from LDS members and made up 80 to 90 percent of the volunteers who walked door-to-door in election precincts.

The Mormon Church has maintained that its direct involvement with the initiative was minimal — its total contributions amounted to nearly $190,000 — and church members were supporting Prop 8 on their own accord.

The Mormon involvement in Prop 8 was largely seen as public relations setback for the church in terms of public perception.

An LGBT rights supporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he’s spoken to senior church leaders and was told they want no involvement in future initiatives on marriage.

In January, a statement affirming marriage should remain between one man, one woman was reportedly read to Mormons in Minnesota as the state prepares to vote on a marriage amendment this fall. But according to Affirmation, a gay Mormon group, the statement was also read on an ad hoc basis and not under direction from church leadership.

Moreover, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — a Mormon — looking like he’ll be the GOP presidential nominee, many suspect the church doesn’t want to take an active role in politics to avoid the perception that Mormon officials will tell Romney how to govern if he’s elected.

Randall Thacker, senior vice president for Affirmation, said his group intends to oppose efforts within the church against same-sex marriage — whether they’re part of a church effort or an ad hoc initiative.

“Our main stance is that we’re very, of course, pro-marriage [equality],” Thacker said. “We will take a stand wherever we have to, including even ad hoc groups, but we typically are more focused on directing and confronting the church when it acts officially.”

The email comes just weeks before the Open Stories Foundation conference is set for LGBT Mormons in Washington, D.C., called “Building Bridges of Understanding,” from April 20 to 22. Guest speakers will include Carol Lynn Pearson, an author who writes about gays in the Mormon Church, and Mitch Mayne, a gay Mormon who serves as the executive secretary in his congregation.

The full text of the email message follows:

Attention Registered Voters who are Residents of Maryland: 

As you have probably heard, the Maryland legislature passed a same sex marriage bill last February. A coalition of inter-denominational churches throughout Maryland has joined together to try to get a referendum on the November ballot that would allow the residents of Maryland to vote on this bill before it becomes law. Martha Schaerr, who is a member of the LDS Church, is organizing signature collection within Montgomery County and within the LDS Church.

We need to collect approximately 200,000 signatures by the end of May. We are looking for people to gather signatures within the LDS community. If you are willing to help with this important effort please contact Martha Schaerr as soon as possible at [email protected] or Teressa Wallace at [email protected].

If you would like to volunteer, you must attend a 30 minute training session due to the stringent Maryland laws concerning referendums. To register for a session please contact us as soon as possible. There will be several training sessions offered, but if transportation to them is a problem for you, a trainer would be happy to meet with you at a more convenient time and location.

The LDS Church is neutral of matters of party politics. The Church does encourage its members to play a role as responsible citizens, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections, and becoming engaged in the political process in an informed and civil manner. Please consider helping with this very important effort. Every signature is important and every little bit helps!

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District of Columbia

D.C. Council budget bill includes $8.5 million in LGBTQ provisions

Measure also changes Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs

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The D.C. Council approved Mayor Muriel Bowser’s budget proposal calling for $5.25 million in funding for World Pride 2025. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Council on June 12 gave final approval for a $21 billion fiscal year 2025 budget for the District of Columbia that includes more than $8.5 million in funding for LGBTQ-related programs, including $5.25 million in support of the June 2025 World Pride celebration that D.C. will be hosting.

Also included in the budget is $1.7 million in funds for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, which includes an increase of $132,000 over the office’s funding for the current fiscal year, and a one-time funding of $1 million for the completion of the renovation of the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community’s new building in the city’s Shaw neighborhood.

The D.C. LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition earlier this year asked both the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser to approve $1.5 million for the D.C. Center’s building renovation and an additional $300,000 in “recurring” funding for the LGBTQ Center in subsequent years “to support ongoing operational costs and programmatic initiatives.” In its final budget measure, the Council approved $1 million for the renovation work and did not approve the proposed $600,000 in annual operational funding for the center.

The mayor’s budget proposal, which called for the $5.25 million in funding for World Pride 2025, did not include funding for the D.C. LGBTQ Center or for several other funding requests by the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition.

At the request of D.C. Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), the Council’s only gay member, the Council approved at least two other funding requests by the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition in addition to the funding for the LGBTQ Center. One is $595,000 for 20 additional dedicated housing vouchers for LGBTQ residents who face housing insecurity or homelessness. The LGBTQ housing vouchers are administered by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

The other funding allocation pushed by Parker is $250,000 in funds to support a Black LGBTQ+ History Commission and Black LGBTQIA+ history program that Parker proposed that will also be administered by the LGBTQ Affairs office.

Also at Parker’s request, the Council included in its budget bill a proposal by Parker to change the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to become a “stand-alone entity” outside the Executive Office of the Mayor. Parker told the Washington Blade this change would “allow for greater transparency and accountability that reflects its evolution over the years.”

He said the change would also give the person serving as the office’s director, who is currently LGBTQ rights advocate Japer Bowles, “greater flexibility to advocate for the interest of LGBTQ residents” and give the Council greater oversight of the office. Parker noted that other community constituent offices under the mayor’s office, including the Office of Latino Affairs and the Office of Veterans Affairs, are stand-alone offices.

The budget bill includes another LGBTQ funding provision introduced by D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) that allocates $100,000 in grants to support LGBTQ supportive businesses in Ward 6 that would be awarded and administered by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Allen spokesperson Eric Salmi said Allen had in mind two potential businesses on 8th Street, S.E. in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill as potential applicants for the grants.

One is the LGBTQ café and bar As You Are, which had to close temporarily earlier this year due to structural problems in the building it rents. The other potential applicant, Salmi said, is Little District Books, D.C.’s only LGBTQ bookstore that’s located on 8th Street across the street from the U.S. Marine Barracks.

“It’s kind of recognizing Barrack’s Row has a long history of creating spaces that are intended for and safe for the LGBTQ community and wanting to continue that history,” Salmi said  “So, that was his kind of intent behind the language in that funding.”

The mayor’s budget proposal also called for continuing an annual funding of $600,000 to provide workforce development services for transgender and gender non-conforming city residents experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

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Virginia

Suhas Subramanyam wins Democratic primary in Va. 10th Congressional District

Former Obama advisor vows to champion LGBTQ rights in Congress

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Virginia state Sen. Suhas Subramanyam (D-Fairfax County) (Photo courtesy of Subramanyam's campaign)

Virginia state Sen. Suhas Subramanyam (D-Loudoun County) on Tuesday won the Democratic primary in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) in Congress.

Subramanyam won the Democratic primary in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District with 30.4 percent of the votes. The Loudoun County Democrat who was an advisor to former President Barack Obama will face Republican Mike Clancy in November’s general election.

“I’m thrilled to be the Democratic nominee in Virginia’s 10th, and to have won this election during Pride Month,” Subramanyam told the Washington Blade on Wednesday in an emailed statement. “As I have done in the state legislature and as an Obama White House policy advisor, I will always stand as an ally with the LGBTQ+ community.”

Wexton, who is a vocal LGBTQ rights champion, last September announced she will not seek re-election after doctors diagnosed her with progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurological disorder she has described as “Parkinson’s on steroids.” Wexton is a vice chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus and a previous co-chair of its Transgender Equality Task Force.

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Baltimore

Police say they didn’t spray a chemical agent at Baltimore Pride. Why don’t those who attended believe it?

Attendees allege city failed to adequately respond to emergency

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A parade participant is photographed clutching on to a rainbow flag at Baltimore’s Pride Parade held on June 15, 2024. (Photo by Ronica Edwards/Baltimore Banner)

BY BRENNA SMITH and JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV | A chemical agent that disrupted Pride Parade festivities last weekend continues to cause confusion and raise suspicion among many in the Baltimore LGBTQIA+ community, who question the police account of what happened.

The Baltimore Police Department said Tuesday that they had determined the released substance was Mace, but did not say how they came to that conclusion. A BPD spokesperson said that the chemical was released after two groups of people got into an altercation. Three people were treated and released from a nearby hospital because of injuries from the spray.

The rest of this article can be read on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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