Although Californians will not be voting on the reversal of Proposition 8 in November, marriage equality by no means has faded into obscurity.
Not long after the passage of Prop. 8 and right around the same time the legal challenge to the measure’s constitutionality was set in motion, a group of filmmakers began working on a film focused on exposing the money and information origins of the “Yes on 8” campaign.
On June 18, two days after closing arguments in the landmark trial Perry v. Schwarzenegger will be heard, “8: The Mormon Proposition” will be released in selected theatres nationwide.
A 2010 Sundance Film Festival selection, the documentary is an indictment of the Mormon Church’s historic involvement in the promotion and passage of Proposition 8.
“8: The Mormon Proposition” exposes the Church’s secretive, decades-long campaign against gay rights. The film takes place in both California and Utah and chronicles how Mormons, urged by their prophets and elders, waged a spiritual warfare fought with money and lies against gay and lesbian Americans and their fight for marriage equality.
“It’s not a gay film,” said the film’s producer, director and writer, Reed Cowan. “This [film] is for voters and anyone who values and wants to preserve democracy in the face of an emerging theocratic way of doing business. I hope that they will take away from it that they were wronged. They were misinformed, they were lied to, and that their vote is sacred.”
“If we want a theocracy then we go ahead with the status quo of the religion insurgence into current politics,” Cowan adds. “If we want a democracy we demand the IRS hold religious institutions accountable and not only slap them on the wrist but remove their tax free status if they choose to participate in politics.”
Through never-before seen documents, recordings and insider-interviews, Cowan and his team expose the efforts of the Mormon Church and its members to halt nearly every piece of LGBT legislation on the desks of lawmakers from Hawaii to New York.
“I’m a straight woman and a mother, and this film is very important to me,” said another of the film’s producers, Emily Pearson. “How can abuse, ignorance and bigotry NOT be of interest to everyone? The issues in this film are not gay issues ultimately. They are human issues.”
The Human Faces
“8: The Mormon Proposition” brings the fight to a personal level by introducing us to Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones, a gay couple who got married in San Francisco prior to the passage of Prop. 8.
Tyler’s mom and dad drove approximately five hours from St. George to Salt Lake City when Cowan and his crew were conducting interviews for the film.
“When I saw their passion for Tyler and Spencer and also her lesbian daughter, I was determined to meet them,” Cowan recalled. “And when I learned of the family’s history relative to Mormonism, I knew they were our stars.”
Ironically, Barrick is a direct descendent of the right-hand-man of the Mormon Church founder, Joseph Smith. The Barrick-Jones family ancestors were chased from state to state because of their own practice of polygamy.
“[Tyler and Spencer] were eager to be a part of the film,” Cowan said. “They had fought so hard to defeat Prop. 8 on the streets with their own money, flyers and time, and they really felt the sting.”
Through tears, both Barrick and Jones talk about their relationship, their commitment and the hate Prop. 8 sparked; but one of the film’s most tear-jerking scenes is listening to Barrick’s mother describe how the discrimination he faces hurts her and how it has ultimately divided their family.
“8: The Mormon Proposition” also digs deep into Mormon history and exposes the alleged abuse, electric shock therapy and frontal lobotomies for known homosexual Mormon men.
Additionally it chronicles numerous gay-Mormon suicides, including the story of Stuart Matis, who shot himself on the steps of a California Mormon Church during the California’s Knight Initiative against gay marriage.
Cowan explains that originally, he had sought out to make a film about teen homelessness.
“Utah has one of the highest percentage of homeless teens and a great portion of those kids say they were kicked out of after coming out to their Mormon families – that was my original angle, then Prop. 8 happened,” he said.
“It was very clear to me how much the Mormon Church was involved,” Cowan adds. “And I began to see that the teen homelessness, the suicides, they were all just symptoms of the greatest ill – bigotry spewed from a pulpit. So we backed up and decided it was time to tell the real story.”
The film not only provides first-hand accounts from ex-Mormons and those fighting to expose the truth about the church’s involvement, but it also features prominent Mormons who defend their fight against same-sex marriage.
Utah State Senator Chris Buttars, who at one point stated gays engaged in so-called “pig sex,” a comment which led to his ouster from the chair of Utah’s Senate Judiciary Committee, speaks unapologetically in “8: The Mormon Proposition.”
“…the truth doesn’t change,” Buttars tells Cowan in the film. “Gays are the biggest threat to America.”
Standing up to the Mormon Church
A fact that merits mention is that many of the people behind the camera who worked so hard to put “8: The Mormon Proposition” together were raised within the Mormon culture.
“I have one hell of a Mormon history,” Cowan said with a chuckle.
Born in Mormon culture, Cowan recalls his days in a Mormon seminary and his one-hour daily parochial training sessions from grades 7th through 12th. While finishing his BA at Utah State University, he went through missionary training and for two years went door to door attempting to convert people into the faith.
One year after completing college, however, he had his name formally removed from the Church.
His decision stemmed from his inability to find an explanation or apology for the exclusion of African Americans in the Mormon Church until 1978.
“It was very difficult for my family, I left the heritage and the religion that I had been raised with…it broke my parents’ hearts,” Cowan said.
Cowan at the time was also still in the closet. He had in fact been married to a Mormon girl, with whom he had a son. After two and a half years of marriage, however, she decided to pursue a different relationship and it was at that time Cowan felt it was time to be honest.
“I have always known I was gay,” Cowan said. “I fought it since I was 7 years old and I got tired of living a lie. At that point, I thought I couldn’t be of value to [my son] if I couldn’t look him in the eye and be truthful.”
Cowan states his family was at first put off by his confession, recalling that his dad at one point said he would rather have him get hit by a car, than be gay.
“It was a quick rebound though,” Cowan explained. “And they were supportive as long as I was quiet about it. When I got public about criticizing the religion and when I started this movie, that is when the nuclear bomb was dropped on my family relationships.”
Like many of the film’s characters, Cowan and the film’s crew have now been shunned by the religion many of them once called their own and their families. They have even received threats.
“This film has opened a lot of wounds in my family. My father told me he supports Prop. 8 and that God gave him the scriptures before he gave him me as his son. That hurt.”
Cowan has not spoken to his father and sisters in over a year and states it is most difficult with his mother, pointing to the backlash his family is also facing from fellow Mormon believers.
“While I hate they had to be drawn into this battle, I am doing what I feel is right,” Cowan said.
“Of course it’s heated; it’s a conversation that is vital. To be finally able to stand up and demand accountability feels incredible,” Pearson adds. “I’ve been waiting for this since I was 12 years old. Where I have been personally with the Mormon Church is far scarier than anything that can happen as a result of this film.”
Watching “8: The Mormon Proposition”
“As someone who believes in the power of these stories I am not at all surprised [by the film’s critical acclaim],” Cowan said.
“It put the people in my film on a platform where they could get heard. There was a moment at Sundance where – after all the hours of pulling our hair out, the numerous six-packs of beer, all the cigarettes, stress and being broke – I looked at the hundreds of people giving us a standing ovation and I thought it was worth it, we did something, we nudged the world a little bit.”
The film will open in select cities only; it will however, be available for purchase on both DVD and iTunes as of July 13. For additional information, click HERE.
“I am hopeful for it [Prop.8 being struck down]. The only way to get our equality is going to have to be through the courts,” Cowan said. “We have to seek Federal equality.
“My hope is that the Obama administration will put us as a priority. We are a group of people who are denied their civil rights in the days of Obama and I would think that he should be ashamed of that. He is in the Presidency because of the work of his predecessors to create civil rights for African Americans.”