Mormons have emerged as a dominant fund-raising force in the hotly contested California ballot fight to ban same-sex marriage.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have contributed more than a third of the approximately $15.4 million raised since June 1 to support Proposition 8. The ballot initiative, if passed, would reverse the current right of same-sex couples to marry.
The tally of Mormon contributions was provided by Frank Schubert, campaign manager for ProtectMarriage.com -- Yes on 8, the initiative's primary backer. A finance-tracking group corroborated Mormon fund-raising dominance, saying it could exceed 40%.
The Mormon Church decision to enlist members on behalf of the same-sex marriage ban has given supporters of Proposition 8 a fund-raising lead. The campaign to defeat the initiative has collected around $13 million so far, said Steve Smith, a top campaign consultant for No on 8, Equality for All. Both sides raised roughly equal amounts in the early stages, said Mr. Smith, but "all of a sudden in the last few weeks they are out-raising us, and it appears to be Mormon money."
The top leadership of the Mormon Church, known as the First Presidency, issued a letter in June calling on Mormons to "do all you can" to support Proposition 8.
Mormon donors said they weren't coerced. "Nobody twisted my arm," said Richard Piquet, a Southern California accountant who gave $25,000 in support of Proposition 8. He said Mormon Church leaders called donating "a matter of personal conscience." Some Mormons who declined to donate said their local church leaders had made highly charged appeals, such as saying that their souls would be in jeopardy if they didn't give. Church spokesmen said any such incident wouldn't reflect Mormon Church policy.
Same-sex marriage was legalized in California after the State Supreme Court ruled in May that an existing ban, enacted by referendum in 2000, was unconstitutional. That prompted opponents to organize the current ballot initiative to amend the state constitution, banning same-sex marriage.
Since then, the fight over the initiative has come to be seen as a crucial battleground: If voters uphold the right of gay couples to marry in the nation's most populous state, it could give momentum to efforts to legalize same-sex marriage elsewhere.
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is bucking the conservative wing of his party to campaign against the initiative. The latest statewide poll, taken at the end of August, shows that 54% of the state's likely voters oppose the initiative while 40% support it.
The battle has drawn in money from around the country. The Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic group, has given $1 million to support Proposition 8. Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization composed mainly of evangelical Protestants, has given more than $400,000. The Yes on 8 campaign has received "more proportionally from the Latter-day Saints Church than from any other faith," said Mr. Schubert, 35% to 40% of the total.
The Mormon Church encouraged its members to send their donations to a separate post-office box set up by a church member, said Messrs. Schubert and L. Whitney Clayton, a senior Mormon Church official involved in the campaign. Mr. Clayton said the church didn't keep track of how much individual Mormons donated, just the cumulative total. He said members bundled the donations and forwarded them to the campaign.
A Web site run by individual Mormons, Mormonsfor8.com, has tracked all donations to the Yes on 8 campaign of $1,000 or more listed on the California secretary of state's Web site. The site's founder, Nadine Hansen, said they have identified more than $5.3 million given by Mormons but believe that donations from church members may account for far more than 40% of the total raised.
Robert Bolingbroke, a Mormon who lives near San Diego, said he and his wife decided on their own to donate $3,000 in August. Later, he was invited to participate in a conference call led by a high church official, known as a member of the Quorum of Seventy. Mr. Bolingbroke, a former president and chief operating officer of The Clorox Co., estimates that 40 to 60 Mormon potential donors were on that call, and he said it was suggested that they donate $25,000, which Mr. Bolingbroke did earlier this month. Mr. Bolingbroke said he doesn't know how he or the other participants on the call were selected. Church leaders keep tithing records of active members, who are typically asked to donate 10% of their income each year to the Mormon Church.
Same-sex marriage hits at the heart of Mormon theology, said Terryl Givens, a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond. According to scholars and documents on the Mormon Church's official Web site, couples married in a Mormon temple remain wedded for eternity and can give birth to spirit children in the afterlife. Most importantly, Mormons must be married to achieve "exaltation," the ultimate state in the afterlife. Mormons also believe they retain their gender in the afterlife.
"This all explains the Mormon difficulty with homosexuality," said Mr. Givens. In a theology based on eternal gender, marriage and exaltation, "same-sex attraction doesn't find a place."
The church, which typically stays out of political issues, has occasionally entered the fray. In the 1970s, for example, it opposed the Equal Rights Amendment.
The prominence of Mormon donors in the Proposition 8 fight has also led to alliances with evangelical Protestant groups and other Christian religions, some of which have deep theological differences with Mormons.
Jim Garlow, pastor of the evangelical Protestant Skyline Church near San Diego and a leading supporter of Proposition 8, said, "I would not, in all candor, have been meeting them or talking with them had it not been for" the marriage campaign. Rev. Garlow said he had developed a "friendship" with the Mormons he met, although he feels the theological differences remain "unbridgeable."
But he noted how Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants have formed tight bonds through their joint work against abortion, and he said a similar process might occur with Mormons.
Asked if working on Proposition 8 might improve the standing of Mormons in the eyes of evangelicals, Mr. Whitney said, "That's just not been on our radar."
He said he would be happy to work with "anyone else who would be willing to roll up their sleeves and go to work to try to preserve marriage between a man and a woman. That's our interest."