Ballot measures in both Nevada and Nebraska calling for a constitutional amendment that would ultimately outlaw same-sex marriage were approved by a wide margin in both states Tuesday, due in some measure to grassroots support from members of the LDS Church and other religious groups.
More than two-thirds of Nevada voters want the constitutional amendment, and the vote in Nebraska was 2-to-1 in favor, giving that state the tightest restriction yet on such unions.
A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declined comment on the outcome of both initiatives.
Richard Ziser, chairman of the Nevada Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, said late last week that support for Question 2 on Tuesday's ballot resulted from the efforts of a broad-based coalition of groups, including several denominations. "It's been very wide-ranging, all the way from the Muslim faith and obviously LDS support. Most Protestant churches have banded together to help the effort as well."
Ziser said he had "no idea how many of our coalition members or volunteers are LDS," and that the LDS Church did not make any financial contribution to the coalition's efforts. The last contributions report filed with the Nevada secretary of state at the end of August showed the campaign against same-sex marriage had raised about $750,000, "almost all of it coming from individuals. We've had well over 5,000 individual donations, not from churches, just from individuals," Ziser said. "The churches themselves have not been cutting checks to the coalition."
Coalitions opposed to legalizing same-sex marriage in both Alaska and Hawaii received $500,000 and $600,000, respectively, from the LDS Church, but the move was criticized by opponents who accused the church of trying to influence the outcome of the election through large contributions.
The church's efforts to oppose a ballot measure last spring regarding same-sex marriage in California focused on mobilizing thousands of LDS Church members through a letter from LDS area authorities in that state. The letter was read from the pulpit in church meetings throughout the state, asking for volunteer support and individual financial donations from members to the effort.
That move, too, sparked controversy, particularly in San Francisco where a member of the Board of Supervisors publicly questioned the church's tax-exempt status.
This time, it appears the church has worked through grassroots channels.
Ziser said the LDS Church "did not come out with a specific statement regarding Question 2, but a number of years ago it came out with statements regarding the same-sex issue and protection of marriage, obviously very strongly in favor of (heterosexual marriage.) I think they've encouraged their members to be involved as much as possible" in the political process, he said.
In Nebraska, the LDS Church's involvement has apparently been the source of some dispute even among those who oppose same-sex marriage.
Guyla Mills, leader of the state's Defense of Marriage Amendment Committee, which led the petition drive to place the constitutional ban of same-sex marriage on the ballot, told the Omaha World Herald last month that her group would not join with a group of LDS Church members, Catholics and Protestant evangelicals on the issue because of "philosophical differences."
She said she refused an offer by two Nebraska members of the LDS Church to join the coalition, even though they told her they would be able to raise $600,000 to promote the amendment.
"The package presented to me was outside the parameters set by the DOMA committee," Mills said. "It would be an entity apart from the DOMA committee; it would be funded by outside money and it would be controlled" by the LDS Church.
Initiative 416, as it is known in Nebraska, gathered 160,000 petition signatures statewide in order to be placed on Tuesday's ballot. Mills, who did not return phone calls from the Deseret News Tuesday, acknowledged to the Omaha paper that about one-fourth of the petition drive's 3,200 volunteers were LDS Church members, and that they collected about half the 160,000 signatures.
"There's no doubt about it, the Mormon folks worked very hard," she told the paper.
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