February 4, 2013 at 5:20 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Mormons, religious groups file brief in support of Prop 8
A temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (photo from wikimedia by Joe Ravi)

A temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (photo from wikimedia by Joe Ravi)

The participation of the Church of Latter-Day Saints in a legal brief filed by religious groups in favor of California’s Proposition 8 is vexing an organization that advocates for LGBT Mormons.

In a 38-page friend-of-the-court brief, filed before the Supreme Court Jan. 29, religious groups — including the Mormon Church — emphasize that justices shouldn’t strike down Prop 8 on the basis of religious support for the anti-gay amendment. The brief is signed by Von Keech, a Utah-based private attorney who has previously assisted the Mormon Church, as well as other private attorneys with his firm Alexander Dushku, R. Shawn Gunnarson and Kirton McConkie.

“[O]ur members supported Proposition 8 based on sincere beliefs in the value of traditional marriage for children, families, society, and our republican form of government,” the brief states. “Only a demeaning view of religion and religious believers could dismiss our advocacy of Proposition 8 as ignorance, prejudice, or animus.”

In a statement on Monday, Affirmation, a national group for gay and lesbian Mormons, questioned why the Mormon Church would participate in a legal brief in favor of Prop 8 after backing off its support of anti-gay measures since the passage of the California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2008.

“I agree that churches should have the freedom to petition the government and that Proposition 8 should not be invalidated due to religious support of the initiative,” said Affirmation President Randall Thacker, who’s gay. “However, we believe Proposition 8 should be invalidated on the grounds that it denies protections to same-sex couples who have committed to care and provide for each other and their children, a grouping that is clearly defined as a family by the majority of society.”

Spencer Clark, who’s straight and president of Mormons for Marriage Equality, said he agrees the law should provide a foundation for strong families, but said Prop 8 harms children being raised by same-sex parents.

“Unfortunately, Proposition 8 provides no additional benefits to straight couples while denying substantial benefits and legitimacy to gay and lesbian couples who are also raising children,” Clark said. “The brief argues for a conception of marriage that blatantly ignores the hundreds of thousands of children in the United States being raised by same-sex couples, pretending that these loving families don’t exist.”

In 2008, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was among the strongest advocates of Prop 8 when it came before California voters as a ballot measure. The church called on members to become involved with the campaign, who contributed as much as half of the $40 million raised and consisted of up to 90 percent of the initial volunteer force to support the ballot measure.

But many observers believe the passage of Prop  8 resulted in a negative press for the Mormon Church. Since that time, the church hasn’t been as involved in ballot initiatives involving marriage, came out in support of an non-discrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City, and launched a website called MormonsAndGays.org to encourage gay members to stay within the church.

A spokesperson for the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City said she couldn’t respond in time for Blade deadline on why the church was participating in a legal brief after adopting a more pro-LGBT tone.

Other groups whose names are on the brief are the National Association of Evangelicals, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; the Romanian-American Evangelical Alliance of North America; and Truth in Action Ministries.

The brief offers three major reasons for why the Supreme Court should uphold Prop 8, which the court is currently reviewing as result of pending litigation known as Hollingsworth v. Perry: 1) Prop 8 reflects a rational choice amid conflicting views of marriage, not prejudice; 2) Prop 8 should not be invalid because it expresses the views of religious voters; 3) Prop 8 is in line with the values of California voters and more likely to sustain the institute of marriage.

“Proposition 8 expresses the people’s sense that society should continue preserving marriage as the institutional bond joining together and protecting a husband, a wife, and their children,” the brief states. “That complex judgment was no doubt influenced by traditional marriage’s roots in California’s history, culture, laws, and diverse religions and by the public goods the people understand it provides in erecting an orderly social mechanism to cope with natural reproduction … and in protecting the family setting where children thrive best … and best acquire the ‘moral powers requisite for politically liberal citizenship.'”

The brief concludes: “The people of California violated no one’s civil rights when they adopted Proposition 8. Their twice- expressed preference for the traditional definition of marriage over an untested rival conception was thoroughly rational. It is therefore thoroughly constitutional.”

The same religious groups — including the Mormon Church — also filed a 22-page friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act. Similar to the Prop 8 brief, the DOMA brief contends the anti-gay federal law shouldn’t be made invalid because of the moral and religious views voiced in support of it. The brief is signed by Von Keetch and the same other attorneys who signed the Prop 8 brief.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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