One of the more interesting, and less-explored, religion angles to this year's political action is the emergence of dissent within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the church's strong efforts to help pass Proposition 8, which would overturn same-sex marriage in California.
The church's support for Proposition 8 is not a surprise -- the Mormon church opposes homosexual activity and teaches that people who experience same-sex attraction should be celibate -- and the church has thrown itself into the campaign in California, spending millions of dollars and urging its members to work to pass the measure. In June, all church leaders were asked to read a letter to their congregations, declaring, "We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman."
But Mormon supporters of same-sex marriage have also been increasingly outspoken, launching several web sites, such as Mormons for Marriage. And the San Francisco Chronicle has reported that Steve Young, the Hall of Famer quarterback and a descendant of Brigham Young, has a "No on 8" sign on his lawn.
At a Mormon Studies panel yesterday at the American Academy of Religion meeting in Chicago (where I also spoke, about my experience covering Mormonism in Boston), Doe Daughtrey of Arizona State University declared that the emergence of Mormons opposed to Proposition 8 marks "the most concentrated example of Mormon dissent in the last 20 years." And Daughtrey offered a provocative hypothesis: that the campaign of Mitt Romney for president inadvertently fueled the emergence of outspoken Mormon supporters of same-sex marriage, because questions about Romney's relationship to Salt Lake City had led the church to repeatedly declare that it was OK for Mormons to go their own ways on political issues (See: Harry Reid.) It's an interesting theory, and one that was greeted with skepticism by some in the audience, and some folks questioned what the actual size of the dissenting Mormon population is, but it seems clear that the question of how Mormons responded to their church's role in the California marriage campaign will be the subject of further debate and research.
(Photo, by Trent Nelson/AP, shows Mormons delivering petitions expressing their support for gay marriage to an official of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Oct. 17 in Salt Lake City.)