Tuesday, September 7, 1999

Letter to Elder Callister

Elder Douglas L. Callister
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Defence of Marriage Committee
P.O. Box 10637
Glendale, CA 91209-3637
September 7, 1999

Dear Elder Callister:

I have just read with interest your letter to the Stake Presidents in California urging them to support passage of your Traditional Marriage Initiative on the March, 2000 California ballot. It is a troubling image of a church at work, and an argument, if ever there was one, for moving forcefully against organized religion.

“Experience shows that it is generally more successful to begin with the more affluent members,” you write. To care for the sick? House the homeless? Foster world peace? No, you want them to join you in keeping families from forming that do not meet your criteria of what a family should look like. Your admonishment to exert “no undue pressure of any type,” and to avoid raising money on church property shows that you are conscious of the tradition of separation of church and state. But then, in stunning inconsistency, you tell the presidents that “an education process will be required so that those approached will understand this is a moral issue, rather than political (one).”

This may be a moral issue to you, but since the whole purpose of your efforts is to influence an election, it is every bit a civil issue as well. Is it that you don’t know that? Or that you know that and don’t care?

I trust the irony is not lost on you that you are a Mormon urging something you call a “Traditional Marriage” initiative on a ballot. What a short time ago it was when your folk were hounded from one place to another for their views on what constitutes a family! But here you are, only a few generations after the great Mormon quest for a space to be different and you are ready to bring your boot down on somebody else’s neck. You are, it turns out, no different from anybody else who suffers injustice and learns nothing from the experience except that it is better to bully than to be bullied.

I don’t approve of you and your church. In fact, I think your church is a thoroughly loathsome institution. But you do not have to worry that I will do you harm, because I value the social contract we have that makes it possible to live with our diversity and the conviction that my rights end where yours begin and vice versa.

But where is your sense of history, Elder Callister? Your understanding that we are a people striving toward, but never quite living up to, our ideals. We once took what wanted from the native inhabitants of this continent, withheld the right to vote from women, worked children to death, and treated Africans like cattle. And Mormons like pariahs.

The world movement by gay men and women toward recognition of their relationships is larger than the American quest for civil liberties, and it will not be stopped for long, if at all, by your lack of charity any more than it was by other campaigns based in fear and ignorance. In only one generation Americans have come to see the harm they have done to gay people and have moved toward granting them rights previously withheld. The right to family security will come despite the anti-family moves of the Mormon Church.

How hollow are your claims to support the family! A few years ago people like you said gay people were incapable of lasting relationships. Now, when their desire for recognition of their families has shown you how badly you misrepresented them, you still lack the courage to turn from your prejudices. You say first that the teapot you returned is not broken, then that it was broken when you borrowed it.

You once thought it was good for one man to have several wives. Now you say that conviction was wrong while your current views on the family are right. You once thought people of color could not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Now you say they can. I don't fault you for inconsistency; I appreciate your ability to learn from experience.

Please turn away from this wrong-headed initiative. Use your power of moral suasion to build families, not tear them down. Extend beyond your church to foster civil rights, not take them away. Stop tormenting those whose sexuality you cannot understand, simply because it does not match your own.

It is too late for countless tormented gay Mormons who took their lives because they couldn’t reconcile their sexuality with their desire to live within the Mormon Church, but it would at least demonstrate that their faith in you was not misplaced.

In this initiative you are gathering money to prevent all gay citizens of California, non-Mormons as well as Mormons, from having their families recognized, to inherit property built over a lifetime together, to sit by a bedside of a dying partner, to share in the way members of a family share.

It is likely, I suppose, that this incursion into the civil arena will do more harm in the long run to the Mormon Church than to gays and lesbians. But I am concerned with the immediate grief you can cause others.

You have no right to determine for me how my family should look, Elder Callister. I ask you to remember you are an American and that the rights you prevent me from exercising could one day be taken from you, also.

Yours sincerely,

Alan J. McCornick

Cc: Elder Merrill Higham
Elder Floyd Packard