Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oh, this is awesome.

I actually started researching my last post on proposition 8 with a plan. After reading about how African-Americans weren't really at fault for the loss in California, I was going to write about how NEITHER African-Americans NOR Mormons were really to blame for the loss.

Mid-post, I read a little more on how much the LDS church had actually done, and I shifted my position to "Hell, yes, it's in a large part their fault, and we should SO be taxing them as a grassroots political organization if they plan to act like one."

It didn't hurt that what the LDS church did to convince me that the LDS church needed to be taxed is pretty much exactly the stuff I've been trying to talk the UUA out of doing for years.

Anyway, there was one thing that really surprised me in all of the coverage I was reading. The term "marriage" aside, the Mormons said they were cool with gay rights.

The LDS Church has articulated it is not “anti-gay” but rather pro-marriage and it “does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights.” On November 5th, Elder L. Whitney Clayton stated the LDS Church does not oppose “civil unions or domestic partnerships.”

So EqualityUtah is calling them on it. They are proposing five bills carefully tailored to giving gays rights that the LDS church has said it is OK with in official statements.

So far, the LDS church isn't commenting on the proposed bills.

CC
who really admires people who, rather than just bitching and complaining about something like this, look at the situation and come up with a way to build anew. So many people, CC included, just get stuck on something bad that happens. CC eventually moves on, but not as quickly as she wishes she did.

18 comments:

PG said...

I'd missed this! It is indeed very awesome. Go EqualityUtah! (Which must be one of the doughtiest-souled organizations in America.)

Robin Edgar said...

"Hell, yes, it's in a large part their fault, and we should SO be taxing them as a grassroots political organization if they plan to act like one."

Didn't the U*U "religious community" act like a "grassroots political organization" on this issue too CC? Don't U*U "churches" and the UUA act like a "grassroots political organization" on a day to day basis on the question of gay marriage and various other issues?

"I was going to write about how NEITHER African-Americans NOR Mormons were really to blame for the loss."

Maybe I should write a parody about how it's actually the Unitarian*Universalists aka U*Us who are REALLY to blame for this loss. . . Bouncing off your logic about how what (perhaps unfortunately) self-described "Dragon" Ozdachs calls "the black churches" simply did not have the numbers to be blamed for the rejection of Proposition 8 I could not unreasonably argue that if U*Uism was not such a "tiny, declining, fringe religion" in California (to say nothing of elsewhere in America) U*Uism, in its role as "a grassroots political organization", might have been able to swing the vote in favor of Proposition 8. N'est-ce pas CC?

If there were as many U*U "churches" in California as there are Mormon temples, with approximately the same number of members, who knows how things might have turned out? FWIW CC, there are approximately 250,000 members of the U*U "Church" in the whole of the U.S.A. (including RE enrollments who are not old enough to vote) The population of the U.S.A. is approximately 305,627,000 making U*Us about 0.08% of the population. In terms of adult voting age members U*Uism comes closer to 0.05% of the population. Can U*Us say "insignificant"? I tried to come up with statistics for California alone but current state-by-state church-by-church membership statistics are no longer available on the UUA website for some reason. Presumably because the UUA is currently in the process of redetermining just what they are. It will be interesting to see if the U*U World shrank a bit more this year next February when the renewed membership statistics become available.

I look forward to seeing Rev. Peter Morales' 25 year plan for how he will transform U*Uism fro the "tiny, declining, fringe religion" it is today into what he rather dubiously foresees as "the religion of our time". So far he has been less forthcoming and forthright in answering my questions about how he proposes to do that, and some other questions that I have asked him on his apparently stagnant 'Along The Campaign Trail' blog, that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in responding to UUA President Bill Sinkford's "questions and concerns".

As far as the gay marriage issue goes it is not out of the question that the LDS church is being forthright in claiming that it "does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights." I really think that people are hung up on the word "marriage" on both sides of the issue. I get the impression that many people simply see "marriage" as meaning a purely heterosexual union but would not be oppose to GBLT people having the exact equivalent of "marriage" if they simply chose to use a different word to describe it. At least in this sense the gay marriage issue comes down to semantics. In fact there are some GBLT people, including some GBLT U*Us, who are not comfortable with using the word "marriage" to describe their union with a same-sex partner for pretty much the same reason.

Chalicechick said...

I don't want any church acting like a grassroots political organization for a variety of reasons I've already detailed, but also because even successful liberal churches aren't as good at mobilizing the members they have as conservative churches.

Of course, all you have to do is check out Feminist Mormon Housewives to see how much that mobilization hurts the members who disagree. I assume Conservative UUs feel the same way. It's one of the reasons I feel so strongly about this stuff.

On your other question, I don't know if UUs would have been able to swing the vote had they had greater numbers. I think most of the people who share our values and are likely to become UUs probably voted against it anyway.
As you love to remind us, most UUs are well-educated, white people. Educated white people voted against it in huge numbers.

Possibly the UUs could have convinced people who planned to vote against it anyway to give more money and rally. But that's really hard to predict.

My strong preference would be that we preach about equality and freedom and let people draw the lines to specific pieces of legislation themselves.

Some people are focused on the word "marriage," a lot more people are focused on the issue. Several states have passed bills against gay marriage, civil unions and anything that gives unmarried couples the rights married couples have that are so tightly worded that they make it harder to unmarried heterosexuals to do things like charge an abusive partner with domestic violence.

CC

kim said...

Again, the difference between what the LDS was putting out there and what the UUs were saying is that the LDS was lying.
You probably didn't see them since you aren't in California, but the ads were all about how our school children would be forced to submit to lessons in school about gay marriage and go to lesbian weddings as a school outing. It emphasized that children would not be allowed out of these lessons even if their parents objected on religious grounds. They stated that, since the Superintendent of Schools had said (in our ads) that there is nothing on marriage at all that is mandated to be taught in schools, that his website contradicted this. I went to his website, and as near as I could tell, what they said was there was not there. A flat out lie. As a matter of fact, California has had a law for some time that if the parents object to anything taught in what they call "health" classes, the child can be excused. So that was another lie.
There was more. As far as I know, our side told the truth.
If our state constitution mandates equality before the law, that should be for everyone. If you exempt one group from that, what's to stop you from exempting other groups? Isn't that a basic American right? Equality before the law?
The irony in all this is that Mormons are not known for their marriages being between one man and one woman. the church doth protest too much....

Jess said...

Many grassroots political organizations are also 501(c)3's, just like churches/temples/mosques/etc, and are also tax exempt as long as they stick to issues and not candidates or parties.

So what you're really looking for, CC, is a different tax classification for churches that eliminates all political activity.

That's not something I could personally support, because I think churches have an obligation to take moral stands on issues such as marriage equality, poverty, environmental protections, etc. One can hope they do so with integrity and honesty, which the LDS certainly did not in this case.

I do think there should be room left for individual members who disagree with the political stance their church might take, which is a tricky line to walk. And I feel that UU churches have a harder time of this than many others, because we don't have one, inarguable, Source of moral wisdom to draw from but rather many. And that's where it gets important to talk about these issues in more universal language, like "It's good for our society to do this because...." rather than "The Bible says this so we have to...." (and now I'm preaching to the choir...)

Chalicechick said...

Kim,

If gay marriage were legal, do you think the schools would require permission slips to talk about it? I certainly don't think so.

But that aside, distorting the truth isn't my objection. I'm sure if the UUAWO had political commercials, they would distort the truth too. After all, they once sent me an email telling me that the filibuster was a free speech issue.

My issue is the behavior itself.

Jess,

I get that what I am proposing is stricter than the law as currently written. I still think it's a better way to go.

I don't think endorsing bills is much better than endorsing candidates and I think that preaching about the values beneath the bills will have greater power anyway.

Besides, the more explicitly churches are allowed to preach on politics, the more the law favors churches with a more authoritarian structure where the members are inclined to do as they are told.

CC

PG said...

CC,

My concern with your proposal is that some churches are pretty fundamentally tied to things that happen politically. War and peace, for example, are political matters. If you say that a Quaker church cannot preach against every war (since they are pacifists, my understanding is that they have to oppose all of 'em, no matter how good the casus belli) without losing their 501(c)(3) status, then you will either economically penalize a church because it has a political tinge to its religious commitments, or you will destroy the Peace Testimony part of Quakerism. I believe there are just wars and that people drafted in the Civil War and WWII should have served, but I also think a church with a sincere commitment to pacifism should be able support members who want to avoid paying taxes that support war.

Chalicechick said...

But wars aren't decided by referendum.

You can pretty easily preach against war without preaching against a specific bill to bring us into war.

I'm sure lots of churches preached for or against gay marriage in general, I'm not so concerned with them.

CC

Joe The Math Guy said...

Hey CC,

It is interesting to note that Equality Utah is, itself, a tax exempt organization which, clearly, involves itself in politics--they lobby, support bills, propose bills, and so forth. Current laws apparently say that is ok, and that makes sense to me.

Should the law take cognizance of whether a tax exempt organization is motivated by a religion (such as the Mormon Church) or a secular philosophy (such as Equality Utah)? My take on separation of Church and state is that no, it shouldn't; before the law, these are simply two nonprofit organizations which are therefore tax exempt. The government in no way should deal with a religious organization differently, simply because it is a religious organization; they should not be more lenient with it nor should they be harsher with it simply because it is motivated by a religion.

But to Jess: you may have been slightly off base on one point: I THINK that grass roots political organizations like Equality Utah are 501(c)4's, not 501(c)3's. The difference, apparently, is that donations to the former are not tax deductible, but donations to the latter are. I am getting this off the Equality Utah website and Wikipedia, so take it for what it is worth. Equality Utah makes clear that it is a 501(c)4 and that donations are not tax deductible, but that there is a related organization, the Equality Utah Foundation, which is a 501(c)3 organization. This organization does public outreach, education about gays and transgender individuals, that sort of thing; no politics.

Should the Mormon Church lose its 501(c)3 status because it lobbies for bills and that kind of thing? I don't know the law well enough to even hold an opinion on that, nor do I want to. I am going to guess that the Mormons do exactly what Equality Utah does: they have 501(c)4 organizations that do the actual lobbying.

Bottom line: I can see how a reasonable person might find the promulgation of a political agenda motivated by religion distasteful, but I don't see how it is different, in the eyes of the law, from an agenda motivated by a secular philosophy.

Comrade Kevin said...

But of course, LDS still has a very nuanced position on African-Americans as well: "We're not saying you're GOING to hell, just that you CAME from there".

PG said...

CC,

But wars aren't decided by referendum.

So the problem is just when the church directs members to take a specific action, e.g. "vote for this measure"? If so, what's your beef with UU? From your descriptions, it sounds like they get involved in political issues but not in telling people to vote one way or another.

Joel Monka said...

pg, of course UU ministers don't tell you how to vote... but they do post videos that say "There simply isn't any good reason to vote against Obama, but there is one bad one..." Rev Sinkford didn't tell us how to vote on the immigration issue, but he did say that "people of conscience" are on his side, and likened the other to slave traders. Positions on Israel, Supreme Court nominees, and the filibuster were stated in similar terms... so no, we were never told how to vote- I guess we'd still have dignity and worth if we were racist slave traders with no conscience.

PG said...

You can pretty easily preach against war without preaching against a specific bill to bring us into war.
I'm sure lots of churches preached for or against gay marriage in general, I'm not so concerned with them.


So it would be OK to preach for or against a political position, so long as candidates and bills aren't mentioned?

If the UU church has put out videos specifically mentioning Obama, I would think that throws its 501(c)(3) status into question. Are these videos available on a website or anything like that?

public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes. ... voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.

kim said...

Joe -- The Mormons also own a whole lot of "for profit" businesses, which they work around somehow. That doesn't seem to jeopardize their non-profit status. Same with the Catholics.
CC -- You said, "If gay marriage were legal, do you think the schools would require permission slips to talk about it? I certainly don't think so."
I don't agree with you on this. Birth control is legal and the parents can withhold permission for their kids to learn about that. Also AIDS. In California, people forbid their kids from all kinds of things. If same-sex marriage were legally recognized again, kids could certainly be kept out of those classes that discuss them. But discussing them is not on the required curriculum, as, according to the education website, that's not a required subject. If it comes up in a discussion about other stuff, well, that's another situation. Do these people follow their kids around and make sure none of their friends say anything positive about gay people?

Steve Caldwell said...

pg wrote:
-snip-
"If the UU church has put out videos specifically mentioning Obama, I would think that throws its 501(c)(3) status into question. Are these videos available on a website or anything like that?"

If a church released a video endorsing a partisan political candidate, then this church would be violating its 501(c)(3) status.

However, an individual minister can endorse a candidate as long as he or she is speaking an individual (e.g. Rev. Smith) and not as an official representative of a church (e.g. Rev. Smith, Senior Minister - Anytown UU Church).

Joe The Math Guy said...

Hello Kim! My understanding is that 501(c)(3)'s can own and operate businesses as long as the income is not a substantial part of their total income (less than 10%-20% or so). For example, Habitat for Humanity runs a Home Store right here in Scotland County and tries to make a profit off of it, but no one questions their 501(3)(c) status because of it.

The same kind of rule applies to lobbying...a 501(3)(c) can lobby and propagandize for bills as long as the money spent is not a substantial part of their budget...and since the LDS Church is so wealthy, they can spend millions and stay well within the IRS rules.

Frankly, I don't have a problem with this--as far as I can tell, they are playing by the same rules as everyone else. I get that many view them as sleazy, and I am very sympathetic with concerns that their propaganda was dishonest. But as far as revoking their 501(3)(c) status goes...as far as I can tell, that shouldn't happen.

PG said...

steve,

thanks for the clarification -- I was really surprised by the idea that the church's lawyers were dumb enough to let them engage in candidate advocacy. I see now that Joel was specifying that ministers, in their individual and non-pastoral capacity, were stating their own views. I think this is not only legally acceptable but is a positive good. I am not clear why Joel referred to the individual ministers' politics as an answer to my question, 'So the problem is just when the church directs members to take a specific action, e.g. "vote for this measure"?'

kim said...

Joe -- If it has to be 10-20% of their income, They much be pretty darned rich. They own the whole Bonneville media network, and I gather lots of other stuff.
I knew before we started this discussion that what they are doing is legal, I just thought it was immoral because of the outright lying. I don't think a church should be immoral and get away with it (not legally, but with its members).