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Documentary Attempts To Lift The Curtain On Prop 8

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A new documentary, "8: The Mormon Proposition," focuses on individuals and families impacted by Prop 8. We speak to filmmaker Steven Greenstreet. Closing arguments in the Prop 8 Marriage trial took place last week. A ruling is expected this summer.

Event Info

"8: The Mormon Proposition" is playing in San Diego through June 29 at the Gaslamp Stadium Theater.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): Closing arguments took place last week in the trial to determine if California's Proposition 8 violates the federal Constitution. Prop 8, of course, was approved by state voters 52 to 48% in November of 2008, and it changed the California Constitution to ban same sex marriage. Earlier that same year, the California Supreme Court had just approved same sex marriage. The fight in support of Prop 8 had some very heavy hitters behind it; conservative organizations, especially religious conservatives, worked hard to overturn same-sex marriage in California. And according to a new documentary, one organization in particular seems to have pulled out all the stops to make sure the anti-gay marriage ban was approved by voters. That organization is the Mormon Church. The documentary is called "8: The Mormon Proposition." Joining me now to talk about the premise of this new film is one of its directors, Steven Greenstreet, and welcome to These Days.

STEVEN GREENSTREET (Documentary Director): Yeah, hi, thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: You’re very welcome. We’re inviting our listeners to join the conversation. Have you been following the federal Prop 8 trial in San Francisco. If you voted for Prop 8, tell us if advertising or promotion made a difference in your vote. You can join us with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Let me ask you that question first, Steven. Have you been following the federal Prop 8 trial in San Francisco?

GREENSTREET: Yeah, no, not only have I been following it but the characters in our documentary have been out there in California following it, some of them from the courtroom itself and Tweeting and texting and Facebooking from the actual event. So we’ve, yeah, definitely been keeping an eye on it.

CAVANAUGH: Now why did you decide to make the film, "8: The Mormon Proposition?"

GREENSTREET: Well, I, you know, I grew up Mormon myself and served a Mormon mission and my co-director Reed Cowan, actually he started making a film about homeless youth in and around Salt Lake City who had been kicked out of their homes because they had come out to their parents, their Mormon parents, as gay. And then when Proposition 8 started bubbling out in California, we kind of expanded our view because we saw the politics of what was happening in California trickle down culturally to these kids being kicked out of their homes. And so we decided that A) the church that we had grown up in, we saw a complete lack of all the ethics that we had grown up being taught about love and charity and family. And so we decided to turn the camera on the church that we grew up with.

CAVANAUGH: Why did you decide to call it "8: The Mormon proposition?" When did it occur to you guys that this proposition was so heavily backed by the Mormon Church?

GREENSTREET: Well, we knew from the get-go. You know, voters went to the ballot box in California thinking that a coalition of organizations were behind this but we knew that the man behind the curtain was really the Mormon Church and that this is not the first state that they have done this in. When we got ahold of 1500 internal documents, faxes, e-mails, from the Mormon Church through a source that we had at Church Archives, and we saw in print signatures of Mormon leaders of how they had planned all of this, how they were going to dump tons of money into this, how they were going to invite the Catholics, “Focus On the Family,” evangelical churches, and how they were going to use these churches to front this campaign for them but they were really going to stand in the background and run the whole campaign.

CAVANAUGH: And how did you get ahold of these secret documents?

GREENSTREET: Fred Karger, who is our lead political analyst and he’s the political analyst that filed the complaint against the Mormon Church to the Fair Political Practices Commission for underreporting their funds, a source sought him out and gave him a call during his investigation and met him in a bar kind of anonymously and had a box full of documents that he passed over to him. And we, in turn, were able to access those documents and use them in the film actually to kind of help inform voters of what’s really going on behind the scenes.

CAVANAUGH: Now at least one of the results of some of that documentation was that on – just earlier this month, the California Ethics Commission found that the Mormon Church was guilty of 13 counts of late reporting on Prop 8 campaign donations and fined the church nearly $6,000.00. Tell us a little bit more about what that was about.

GREENSTREET: Right, and so the church initially, right from the gate, told the public we have – our 501(c)(3), our organization, has donated zero dollars to Proposition 8. And people like us and people like Fred Karger and people in the kind of political pulse knew that was a lie. And so they started some steam and then they retracted their statement, said, well, we’ve only donated just over $2,000.00 on some hotels and a plane ticket. Fred Karger submitted the complaints to the Fair Political Practices Commission and kept pushing them and pushing them because religions do not have to open their financial books. And so little by little they started to admit more and more and more and more money until, ultimately, I think it evened out around $200,000.00. And then the Fair Political Practices Commission, beyond that, found 13 more counts of under-reported and late-reported funds.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Steven Greenstreet. He is one of the directors of "8: The Mormon Proposition." It’s a new documentary that’s playing in San Diego. And I want to let everyone know that we did contact the Mormon Church to participate in this program. We were sent a message that the church respectfully declined to participate but they also sent us a statement on "8: The Mormon Proposition." They say, we have not seen "8: The Mormon Proposition," however, judging from the trailer and background material online, it appears that accuracy and truth are rare commodities in this film. Clearly, anyone looking for balance and thoughtful discussion of a serious topic will need to look elsewhere. And that’s signed Buddy Blankenfeld, Media Manager, Public Affairs Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And let’s take a call from Dan, calling us from Point Loma. Good morning, Dan. Welcome to These Days.

DAN (Caller, Point Loma): Oh, thank you. I had – I just wanted them to address or to talk about the way that the proposition itself was even worded, that it was worded anti-intuitively, that you had to vote no if you wanted the bill to go – if you wanted it to go forward. And you had to vote yes – You know, it was kind of backwards that way. And I think it was done that way deliberately to help confuse and mislead voters almost to the point of being fraudulent.

CAVANAUGH: So what you’re talking about is a yes on Prop 8 was against gay marriage.

DAN: Right.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

DAN: And if you wanted it to go – and people that I talked to who wanted – who supported gay marriage, said, oh, yes, I voted yes for that because I believe in that.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

DAN: And I’m like, well, you – either you didn’t read it or you were confused because you just killed it.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

DAN: And I think that that was – it seems like that’s a normal thing to do when you’re going against the social norm, to kind of flip the vote – the wording around to catch that number of voters who were either not clear or voting in haste and…

GREENSTREET: Right.

DAN: …not being clear.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you for that. Steven, you want to comment?

GREENSTREET: Yeah, definitely, you know, polling after Proposition 8 showed exactly what he just said, that voters thought that yes meant no, and no meant yes. And even now, I’ve done some screenings across the country where people would stand up and say I couldn’t understand why you would vote no on this because I’m for gay marriage. And we had to like correct them…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

GREENSTREET: …saying like, no, actually like yes meant against, you know, same sex marriages. So people still to this day are still kind of confused about it. You know, in the documents that we acquired from internal church headquarters, the words verbatim of Proposition 8 were actually drafted years and years ago at Brigham Young by a lawyer at Brigham Young University, these documents show. And it is very clear that, you know, one of the intentions was one of confusion with the wording itself. So it’s definitely a really good point.

CAVANAUGH: In addition to the campaign donations that the Mormon Church actually made towards Prop 8, your documentary also says that there were a lot of church activists and activities involved in support and that the total amount that can be traced to the church and supporters is more like in the tens of millions.

GREENSTREET: It is. Seventy-one – Mormons make up 2% of the California population but donated up to 71% of the $40-plus million raised.

CAVANAUGH: I see.

GREENSTREET: So, yeah, it was tens of millions of dollars. And having grown up Mormon, I know that there is no distinction and no separation between the church as a 501(c)(3) and the membership. It doesn’t have a paid clergy, unlike some churches. Bishops, stake presidents, leaders, are not paid. It’s all – They’re all kind of one big family. And I understand, having grown up myself, that when your leader asks you to write a check, there’s an extremely, extremely strong pressure, social pressure, to do that. So that’s ultimately what happened in a lot of cases.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. John is calling from Escondido. Good morning, John. Welcome to These Days.

JOHN (Caller, Escondido): Hi. I missed a little bit of your conversation so I hope I don’t say – am not (audio dropout) as other guests. But I’m not Mormon. I did vote for Proposition 8. I don’t have any problem with the participation of the Mormon Church. Honestly, I think that the guest is really asserting that something was fixed here. I think that the wishes of the voters were shown by the vote that they cast.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, thank you for that, John. And, indeed, Steven, what is wrong about people getting very, you know, who are forcefully in favor of a certain proposition spending a lot of money on it?

GREENSTREET: Well, is John still there?

CAVANAUGH: Is John still on the line with us?

JOHN: Yes.

GREENSTREET: Hey, John, so you said you voted for Proposition 8, so essentially against gay marriage.

JOHN: Correct.

GREENSTREET: And why did you vote for it?

JOHN: I just – I think that traditionally – Hey, how you doing?

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

JOHN: Traditionally – Yeah, I’m sorry. I’m distracted. You guys, good luck with your conversation. Thanks.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, John didn’t want to stay with us. But let me…

GREENSTREET: Okay.

CAVANAUGH: …if I can, Steven, go back to my question and…

GREENSTREET: Okay.

CAVANAUGH: …that is, what is essentially wrong with a lot of people who support Prop 8 giving a lot of money to it?

GREENSTREET: Well, you know, I really wish John could’ve stayed on and explained why he voted for it because I would’ve – that would’ve probably guided me to how I would answer that question.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

GREENSTREET: But, basically, if you look at the campaign that the church funded and ran in California, it was a campaign of misinformation and lies. When you run campaign pamphlets and commercials that say if Proposition 8 doesn’t pass—meaning gays can marry—religions will be forced to change their rules and change their laws and you won’t be able to practice your religion as you should and will be forced to have gay marriages in our chapels, kids – your kids are in danger, literal, imminent danger if Proposition 8 does not pass. And it was all of this fear mongering and false information, that adoption services – that adoption services would have to shut down because, you know, to – because gays would suddenly be allowed to adopt. And everybody, you know, the kids – And this is – All of this money, it’s okay to spend money and churches are allowed to spend money on issue-related campaigns but you’ve got to know where the money’s coming from and you’ve got to know the truth about where it’s being spent. And none of that really happened in Proposition 8 until months and months after the election. So this is a hurried campaign of misinformation and lies and I really feel that a lot of voters went to the ballot box not knowing the proper information.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Marci is calling us from Encinitas. Good morning, Marci, and welcome to These Days.

MARCI (Caller, Encinitas): Thank you. I just have a comment to make. I wanted to state that I was brought up LDS, as well as your guest, and my family is also LDS. I do not practice anymore. But when that whole debate was going on, it caused quite – family discussions in the home. I mean, everyone against it, and me and my more liberal sisters for the gay marriage. And our point was like the – like your guest says, we were brought up with these morals to accept and love and be a certain type of person and here my family was so angry and bitter towards the whole gay marriage. Like these people are in love and why does that bother you so much? It’s just – it was just like a conflict of, like your guest says, it’s the way you were brought up. It’s just almost hypocritical and that was just my comment. And it did cause a lot of division to the point where we didn’t go and spend time with my family because it was always such a heated debate and they were very – and I don’t – And also another thing that was also a problem. I had another friend who was tied up in the Mormon Church with a Bishop and left the church because at that point they were really I don’t want to say forceful but passing out signs to put up on your lawns for…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

MARCI: …you know, the agenda, Proposition 8, and I just thought that – I mean, if you’re paying money into the church, I didn’t know it went to political – to political…

GREENSTREET: Umm-hmm.

MARCI: …issues. I thought it went to helping other members in the church for the Deseret Industries…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

MARCI: …and the canneries and all that kind…

GREENSTREET: Umm-hmm.

MARCI: …of stuff. I didn’t know that was part of what you’re giving your tithing for.

CAVANAUGH: Marci, thank you.

MARCI: And I’ll take my comment off the air.

CAVANAUGH: I appreciate it. Thank you very much. And what’s your comment to that, Steven?

GREENSTREET: Yeah, I was sent out as a missionary to knock on doors and one of the main messages that we taught was about family and the unity of family and the importance of family and keeping the family together. And this is the message that I taught and yet, you know, ten years later I see that same church go into California and, in many cases, rip families apart. I mean, Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones, the two – the main couple in our film, who gets married, you know, they’re – come from Mormon families and their families were ripped apart. Their, you know, Tyler’s mother had to watch her child go – be told that he’s a second class citizen, be stripped of his rights, be told that his love is not valid, that he is not valid, that his emotions are not valid. And it’s a horrible thing to watch a mother cry as she watches her child go through such hell. And to see the church that I grew up in be the root cause of that was really, as the caller said, kind of hypocritical.

CAVANAUGH: And my last question to you, Steven, how is this documentary playing for Mormon audiences?

GREENSTREET: Well, we screened, you know, we premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the heart of Mormon Utah.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

GREENSTREET: And we had – we were – We were kind of apprehensive of how it’d be received. Mormons did come to the screening and we had Mormon – active Mormons stand up afterwards with everybody else and in tears and emotionally affected because the film – you can’t judge the film before you see it, as the LDS church has done. They say that it’s full of lies but we haven’t seen it. The Mormons who have come and seen our film, they stand up and they say what can I do? I don’t like knowing that I directly or indirectly helped ruin people’s lives essentially, and ripped families apart. And the conversation has been one of common ground and one of unity. This is not an anti-Mormon film. This is not a anti-religion film. It’s a pro-democracy film and a pro-family film. And those are common ground issues that I think even the most devout Mormon can agree with.

CAVANAUGH: Steven, I want to thank you so much for speaking with us today.

GREENSTREET: Thank you so much for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Steven Greenstreet and Reed Cowan are the directors of a new documentary called "8: The Mormon Proposition." It’s playing at the Gaslamp Stadium Theater in San Diego through June 29th. There were a lot of people who called we couldn’t get on the air. Please, go online with your comments, KPBS.org/thesedays. Coming up, what your libido reveals about your life. That’s as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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