PROVO — Supporters of Proposition 8 came under fire from the national media and gay-rights activists, but none as much as the LDS Church, which became an unfairly overinflated target for the media, a BYU professor explained recently during a two-day Mormon Media symposium at BYU.
The showdown began in May 2008 when the California Supreme Court overturned Proposition 22, the ballot initiative that had banned same sex marriage in 2000, explained Joel Campbell, an associate communications professor at Brigham Young University and former writer for the Deseret News.
In June 2008, Proposition 8 had qualified for the November ballot and on June 29, 2008, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked that a letter be read in LDS congregations across California stating their support for the proposition and requesting that members support it, too, said Campbell.
By August, media were reporting that religious groups had joined the fight, and by September, Mormons were being mentioned specifically and negatively, Campbell said. The Wall Street Journal and even British newspapers began framing the issue as "Mormons versus Gays."
"Mormons were singled out more in news coverage because they were an easy 'other' to identify," Campbell said.
After the amendment passed, Campbell said a New York Times article in November 2008 talked about how Mormons had tipped the scales in the gay marriage ban.
Yet Campbell pointed out the criticism was disproportionate given the number of other pro-proposition groups involved, many much more so than the LDS Church.
Part of that anti-LDS sentiment during Proposition 8 was fueled by leftover Mitt Romney angst, Campbell said. During Romney's presidential campaign, media created an "evangelical versus Mormons" mindset, which was easy to transfer to "gays versus Mormons," he said.
Yet, despite what the media may have portrayed, there were many individuals and groups who supported the church's pro-Proposition 8 stance, Campbell said.
"While the media tended to accentuate an LDS Church media fiasco, the little-told story is how the church earned goodwill and built bridges with other religious groups," Campbell said.
Many religious groups and individuals stood up to condemn the defamation and abuse of the LDS Church, and its members and found themselves allied more closely with Mormons, as people who shared a common goal, Campbell said.