Leaders of the Mormon Church urged their followers to contribute to a constitutional ban on marriage for gay families, a call that apparently resulted in the bulk of the donations to that effort in California. Religious leaders and their adherents are of course free to oppose gay marriage. But when you enter the political fray, you are not exempt from public criticism and protest just because you are a religion or have religious reasons for your advocacy. It's not anti-religious bigotry to call attention, loudly and angrily, to what you have done.
Moreover, despite the focus on a few extremists whose words have indeed crossed the line into religious (and racist) bigotry over the past few days, the anti-Prop 8 rallies have been peaceful and mostly respectful. Frankly, if marriage had been denied to blacks, Mormons, Catholics, or almost any other group, it's hard to imagine the reaction would have been as mild as it's been.
Nevertheless, I am uncomfortable with pickets directed at specific places of worship like the Mormon church in Los Angeles. It's too easy for such protests to degenerate into the kinds of ugly religious intolerance this country has long endured. Mormons, in particular, have historically suffered rank prejudice and even violence. Epithets and taunts directed at individuals are especially abhorrent. Individual Mormons (and blacks and others) bravely and publicly opposed Prop 8. Even those who supported Prop 8 are not all anti-gay bigots, though I saw plenty of anti-gay bigotry when I was in California last week. As I've repeatedly argued, there are genuine concerns about making a change like this to an important social institution. Those concerns are misplaced and overwrought, but they are not necessarily bigoted.
Here's my advice to righteously furious gay-marriage supporters: Stop the focus on the Mormon Church. Stop it now. We just lost a ballot fight in which we were falsely but effectively portrayed as attacking religion. So now some of us attack a religion? People were warned that churches would lose their tax-exempt status, which was untrue. So now we have (frivolous) calls for the Mormon Church to lose its tax-exempt status? It's rather selective indignation, anyway, since lots of demographic groups gave us Prop 8 in different ways — some with money and others with votes. I understand the frustration, but this particular expression of it is wrong and counter-productive.
Public protest against a constitutional ban on marriage for gay families is entirely justified. More than a mere vote, protests communicate intensity of feelings. They're valuable in a democracy. Something incredibly precious was lost on Tuesday. Those who lost it should not be expected to go back quietly to producing great art and show tunes for everybody's amusement.
I understand a rally is planned for the state capitol in Sacramento. That's more like it.
If a more intense physical expression of anger and frustration is needed, why not have sit-ins at marriage-license bureaus in California? It could be modeled on the sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in the 1960s. The demonstrations would be targeted at government buildings — rather than at churches. And after all, it's government policy we're legitimately protesting, not religious doctrine. Let people get arrested as they sing "We Shall Overcome." The protesters themselves — gay and straight, single and married, black and white, Mormon and Catholic, Republicans and Democrats, moms and dads raising kids — would suffer and accept the legal consequences of their acts. Rather than instilling fear and resentment in others, rather than dividing people on religious and racial lines, they would literally be putting their own bodies on the line for the good of their relationships, their families, their friends, and for a just cause whose time has come. We've had enough of lawyers, courts, focus groups, and media handlers. Let peaceful protesters by the thousands be dragged away just because they want to marry. It would be good old-fashioned civil disobedience, an American protest tradition.