Dir. Reed Cowan, Steven Greenstreet
If you are the type of person who watches documentaries like 8: The Mormon Proposition, then it is likely that you already have an opinion on the subject of homosexuality, Mormonism, and California’s Proposition 8. In this case, you are in good company: it is clear from the outset of this film that directors Reed Cowan and Steven Greenstreet had made up their minds on the Church of Latter Day Saints before shooting began. This is not necessarily a bad way to make a documentary, but it does require the directors of this type of documentary to build an argument based on evidence that will convince an audience – or, as I’ve implied, simply verify a previously-held opinion. It is not my place to convince you – this is the film’s job – but it is my place to say that 8: The Mormon Proposition is an argument worth listening to, a film worth watching, and a point well taken.
Cowan and Greenstreet contend that the Church of Latter Day Saints (or, more commonly, the Mormons) surreptitiously spearheaded the effort to pass California’s proposition 8, which redefined marriage in California as a union between a man and a woman only. This is a bold point to make, but Cowan and Greenstreet have heavy evidence on their side. In addition to financial records, internal church memorandum, and expert testimonial – which, by the way, are considerable and compelling pieces of evidence – they have obtained an audio recording of a message sent from Mormon leadership in Salt Lake City, including Mormon prophet Thomas Monson, to Mormons in California. The recording is a commandment: Mormons in California ought to give of their “means and time to defend the traditional institution of marriage,” that this issue is not “a matter of civil rights, but of morality,” that it is up to Mormons to make the issue “go viral.” A Mormon woman present at church for the message, Carol Lynn Pearson, had the following to say: “Nothing is going to come of this effort but sorrow for everybody. It is going to be the most divisive thing you have seen, between families, between friends.”
Of course, some of the evidence presented does not seem particularly damning. Negative and outlandish campaign commercials, volunteer training videos, and an aggressive voter registration drives are not endemic to the Mormons; to the outside observer, this seems more like American politics as usual.
The most powerful moments of the documentary come from the emotional side of the equation. Wisely, Cowan and Greenstreet (who are themselves ex-Mormon) follow the story of a young, gay, Mormon couple, Tyler and Spencer. The two bring a unique perspective into the relationship between Mormonism and homosexuality, though it is obviously a heartbreaking one. We also hear from Lynda Stay, Tyler’s mother, who loves her son and struggles to convince her fellow Mormons that Tyler’s love for Spencer is real, that extending martial rights will not take away from religious rights, that the church is sowing the seeds of sorrow.
The film unfortunately veers off focus towards the end, discussing aversion therapy used against homosexuals at Brigham Young University, the high suicide rates of gay teens in the Mormon world, and the large number of gay homeless youth in Utah. In a larger documentary about homosexuality and Mormonism this would make sense, but these subjects do not fit particularly well in a discussion of Proposition 8. Hopefully these subjects will get documentaries of their own – Cowan and Greenstreet would be the men to do it.
If you have even a passing interest in this subject, it would be best to ignore the problems I’ve pointed out with 8: The Mormon Proposition and simply watch it for yourself. Frankly, the subject is so important, the debate so vital, that problems with the film ought to be overlooked. Watch it with company; a discussion is sure to ensue.
– Dave Robson