The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (more commonly known as the Mormon church) recently reneged on its commitment to stay out of the gay marriage fight.
For those who need a reminder, the LDS church was the major force – financial and otherwise – behind California's Proposition 8 that passed five years ago to deny marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples. While the supreme court overturned Prop 8 this year, the issue is still very much alive in many states.
The image conscious Mormon church received such a pounding from all it did during the Prop 8 campaign that they decided they better play nice and quit all their gay-bashing. The church's own pollster Gary C Lawrence told the Washington Post that after Prop 8, the Mormon church lost 5% of its public support and was tied with Muslims as the least popular of major religions in America.
While the church's image suffered badly, the other reason the Mormon church was sitting out last year's gay marriage debates was so that it would not jeopardize in any way shape or form what was deemed the "Mormon moment". That was their long-held desire to elect the first Mormon US president, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. That plan went up in smoke after he lost badly to President Obama a year ago.
Now that Romney is not a factor anymore, the Mormon church is back fighting same-sex marriage. We discovered two letters that were read to all Mormon church members in Hawaii as the state was considering whether to legalize same sex marriage. The letters signed by high-ranking Mormon leaders asked church members to give of their "time and means" in order to defeat a bill. Fortunately, Hawaii didn't listen to the Mormon church. It passed the bill earlier this month, becoming the 15th US state to allow gay marriage.
People are, of course, allowed to have their own views on same sex marriage or any other issue. But it gets complicated when an official religious organization meddles and lobbies so prominently in politics. I sent a letter to the Hawaii Ethics Commission asking them to investigate whether there were Mormon church employees who had worked over five hours in a month to defeat the bill, or if the church had spent more than $750 on lobbying expenses. If the church met either threshold, they would be required to register more of their employees as lobbyists. We are awaiting the results of that investigation.
The Mormon church even pulled out its top law professor, Lynn Wardle, from church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. They flew him to Hawaii to testify against the gay marriage bill. Professor Wardle has long been the church's leading legal mouthpiece in fighting gay marriage across the country.
The recently released official Mormon church documents published by Mother Jones, show that church has been acting more like Exxon-Mobil or AT&T than a religion. They have had up to 23 lobbyists in 23 states all over the country working to pass laws and constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and opposing each and every marriage equality bill.
It is astounding that the Mormon church appears to use tax deductible donations given to the church to lobby and run political issue campaigns. Official LDS church documents show the measures the LDS church took to keep its involvement secret and obscure the source of its funds.
Perhaps it's time that the US Department of Justice and the IRS take a closer look at the Mormon church's political activities to determine if its tax-exempt status allows for this. If the Mormon church wants to act like a corporation and not a religion, then its income should likely be taxed.
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