Saturday, April 18, 2009


Sometimes catching up on the New Yorker is good- gives me a fresh perspective on things. I know I can talk about Prop 8 till I'm blue in the face and until readers are saying "themacinator, tell us more about BYOBW!" but really, this is something I've never thought of. Hendrik Hertzberg, in the December 1, 2008 issue of The New Yorker, covers my old arguments, namely that we can't blame the passage of Prop 8 on people of color:

Some conservative commentators, who didn’t have much else to gloat about, dwelt lingeringly on what they evidently regarded as the upside of the huge, Obama-sparked African-American turnout. “It was the black vote that voted down gay marriage,” Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News, insisted triumphantly—and, it turns out, wrongly. If exit polling is to be believed, seventy per cent of California’s African-American voters did indeed vote yes on Prop. 8, as did upward of eighty per cent of Republicans, conservatives, white evangelicals, and weekly churchgoers. But the initiative would have passed, barely, even if not a single African-American had shown up at the polls.

He discusses the campaign's regrets- timid ads, and underestimating the enemy. But what (how did I miss this?) I hadn't thought of, was the Mormon church. I mean, I had thought about the Latter Day Saints, and bemoaned their part in the passage of Prop 8, but I hadn't delved deeper. Hertzberg puts the irony/strangeness/vexation into context- here is the summary of Prop 8 from the ballot:

Changes California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
—Ballot summary, Proposition 8.

And here is Hertzberg on the Latter Day Saints and polygamy and marriage. The comparison is not a direct one: polygamy does not equal gay marriage in his argument, but the point is still there: The Mormon faith was founded on something that many many people believed was "wrong". They sacrificed part of who they were to join the union. (yuk yuk) Now they poured bajillions into California to stop a form of marriage they disagree with. Strange, yes? (And we all know there are no gay Mormons, right?)

You might think that an organization that for most of the first of its not yet two centuries of existence was the world’s most notorious proponent of startlingly unconventional forms of wedded bliss would be a little reticent about issuing orders to the rest of humanity specifying exactly who should be legally entitled to marry whom. But no. The Mormon Church—as anyone can attest who has ever answered the doorbell to find a pair of polite, persistent, adolescent “elders” standing on the stoop, tracts in hand—does not count reticence among the cardinal virtues. Nor does its own history of matrimonial excess bring a blush to its cheek. The original Latter-day Saint, Joseph Smith, acquired at least twenty-eight and perhaps sixty wives, some of them in their early teens, before he was lynched, in 1844, at age thirty-eight. Brigham Young, Smith’s immediate successor, was a bridegroom twenty times over, and his successors, along with much of the male Mormon √©lite, kept up the mass marrying until the nineteen-thirties—decades after the Church had officially disavowed polygamy, the price of Utah’s admission to the Union, in 1896. As Richard and Joan Ostling write in “Mormon America: The Power and the Promise” (2007), “Smith and his successors in Utah managed American history’s only wide-scale experiment in multiple wives, boldly challenging the nation’s entrenched family structure and the morality of Western Judeo-Christian culture.”

As depressing as this is, Hertzberg ends (ended in 2008) on a positive note: he believes this is the beginning of the end: "Like a polluted swamp, anti-gay bigotry is likely to get thicker and more toxic as it dries up. " It's going to be bad, but it's going to get better. Baby, keep your head up.