Filmmaker focuses on church-state issues
Director Reed Cowan’s 8: The Mormon Proposition recently played at the Nashville Film Festival, and is now making its way around the festival circuit in advance of a June 18 national opening.
The documentary examines how Proposition 8. Which nullified same-sex couples’ right to marry in California after the courts ruled such discrimination to be unconstitutional. Backers of the proposition were well supported by funds flowing from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormon, church. Millions of dollars flowed into anti-gay advertising, and the measure prevailed, effectively stripping a group of a constitutional right, and putting thousands of legally married same-sex couples in limbo as the matter went back to the courts.
Prior to the Nashville screening, Cowan explained that the documentary is less about gay-rights issues, although those certainly figure prominently, but more about separation of church and state.
O&AN: Do you think that there is revelatory information in here for people who weren’t aware of just how hard the Mormon church worked to pass Proposition 8?
Cowan: I think the Mormon church has done a lot since the 1980s to boost their image. They’re all about family now, to see their commercials. They’ve spent a lot of money on public relations, and even people who associate Mormonism with polygamy and not letting African-Americans in until the late 1970s will be surprised at the concerted efforts to get into political action. The fundraising, the spreading of falsehoods … they’ll be surprised the church would do that. They should also be surprised that our government and our IRS would allow a church, any church, to get so involved in politics.
O&AN: You chose a young, male couple, Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones, as your focal point for those affected; why not an older couple who may have faced more challenges over time?
Cowan: I was fascinated by the back story of Tyler Barrick, who is the great-great-grandson of Joseph Smith’s right-hand man [Frederick Granger Williams]. His ancestor gave land to Smith and without him doing that, the Mormon church wouldn’t exist. I was also fascinated by the fact that his ancestors were chased all over the United States for their polygamous marriage practices, and now they’re turning around and doing the same thing. I liked those parallels; if the Mormon church is going to stick its nose into what marriage is by definition, they’d do well by examining their own practices of alternative marriages.
O&AN: The church got a lot of backlash after Proposition 8; what’s it going to take to keep their feet to the fire?
Cowan: If you look at what happened in the 1970s, when they were about to lose their tax-exempt status because they wouldn’t allow full participation of all races, namely African-Americans, then you’ll see that their prophet suddenly had a revelation to allow blacks full participation. It’s going to take the IRS coming after them for their political activity, and we’re saying to the government, ‘Why haven’t you examined them with more scrutiny?’ Mormons are going to be Mormons: They’ll do what they do, they’ll believe what they believe, they’ll teach what they teach. But their tax-exempt status should be looked at when they so obviously get involved in these political issues. I think, ultimately, their Proposition 8 work will haunt them.
O&AN: As the lawsuits over Proposition 8 continue in court, documents are being subpoenaed from all sides; how’d you wind up with boxes of very damaging church memos?
Cowan: When it ends up in the [U.S.] Supreme Court, you’ll see even more. Our documents are a part of that process, and the attorneys req
uested them. More is going to come out, which is good because marriage equality is ultimately going to have to be decided by the Supreme Court; it can’t keep being done and retracted by the states. People can’t accept piecemeal rights; we need full federal equality.
O&AN: Given that this is going to continue to shine a negative light on tem, will the Mormons keep up the fight?
Cowan: Oh, they have the stomach for it and they have the capital for it; they’ll continue to fight. They will fight with every dollar they have, and as the subpoenas come they’ll continue to ally with every group they can. The onus here really is on the American citizenry to say ‘no more backroom deals, we insist on transparency’ when it comes to churches and their involvement in the political process. The voters need to be fully informed about just who’s involved in these ballot measures; if this can happen in California, it can happen anywhere. The Mormons, and other churches, can set up front groups that make nice, family oriented commercials and get their measure voted through. People need to know who’s behind these things; hate is hate, bigotry is bigotry and people are starting to see that. Hate and bigotry are never credible, and these people are beginning to lose ground.