Nearly two years after its controversial involvement in the passage of California’s Proposition 8, the LDS Church is again drawing criticism for what critics are calling its attempts to thwart legalized same-sex marriage in another country.
On July 15, Argentina’s Senate voted 33-27 on a bill giving gay and lesbian couples the same legal rights as their straight counterparts, including the right to adopt children. It is the first Latin American country to do so, although Mexico City granted legal recognition to same-sex couples in March.
In the months before California voted on Proposition 8, which sought to re-ban same-sex marriage in the Bay State, the LDS Church exhorted its faithful to contribute time and money into seeing the measure passed. Yet, during parliamentary discussion of Argentina’s bill, church President Thomas S. Monson and First Presidency Henry B. Eyring and Deiter F. Uchtdorf merely issued a one paragraph letter to be read in the country’s LDS congregations. It read:
“The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is absolutely clear: Marriage is between a man and a woman and is ordained of God. We recommend that together as families you review The Family: A Proclamation to the World to understand more fully the doctrine of the church in regards to this topic.”
“[The Church] has taken no official position on the legislation being considered,” LDS spokesperson Scott Trotter later told the media.
The move led pundits, bloggers and journalists in the United States wondering why the church had not repeated its anti-Prop 8 campaign. The Salt Lake Tribune cited Argentina’s liberal government and the church’s comparatively small presence in the country — just roughly 372,000 members among 41 million citizens — as possible factors, as well as the bad press the church’s anti-Prop 8 campaign garnered (which, most famously, included a popular documentary about its involvement that debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival).
Just one day after the vote, however, The Salt Lake Tribune revealed that a high-ranking LDS official had taken part in condemning the bill. According to a story that broke in its pages, LDS public affairs director for Argentina Carlos Aguero had joined leaders from several other denominations and conservative family rights groups in a July 7 meeting opposing the bill.
The Tribune article cited “a Buenos Aires” newspaper as its source for this information. Later, Affirmation, a support group for gay former and current members of the LDS faith, revealed that a number of Argentine media outlets had reported on Aguero’s presence at the Catholic-lead demonstration, including La Capital, El Tribuno and Cronista.
The revelation touched off a host of angry comments posted to the web version of the article and anger from gay bloggers across the country, including John Aravosis of AMERICAblog.
Affirmation leadership accused the LDS Church of “interfering with governmental decision on marriage equality.”
“Argentina’s national governing body approved marriage equality this week despite efforts by top Mormons to stop them,” said Dave Melson, the group’s executive director. “This is another appalling example of the LDS trying to dominate government decisions being made by democratically elected officials.”
“Mormon and Vatican officials have no respect for the role of government. People have the right to religious expression but religions do not have the right to co-opt governments,” added George Cole, Affirmation’s Senior Assistant Executive Director. He further noted that the church had joined a “worldwide coalition” of religious groups in 2005 “that are willing to use money offered by the faithful to impose their anti-equality agenda on governments wherever possible.”
Trotter said he could not comment on why Aguero attended the meeting, or whether or not he was there in an official capacity.
“As we have said in the past, the Church has made its support of traditional marriage clear but it does not involve itself institutionally in every same-sex election contest,” said Trotter in a statement. “A local Church representative attended some interfaith meetings where the subject was discussed and a letter was read in local congregations reemphasizing our position on marriage but the Church took no official position on the marriage legislation in Argentina and did not organize its members to participate in opposing the legislation.”