Mormons lead battle to overturn marriage equality in Maryland

Mormons in Maryland are working to overturn a recently passed marriage-equality law that goes into effect January 2013 unless opponents gather the minimum signatures to put it on the ballot. According to a letter obtained by the Washington Blade, a coalition of interdenominational Maryland churches has formed to gather the required signatures for the ballot and to defeat marriage equality before it goes into effect. The letter was sent to Washington D.C. and Southern Maryland-area church members.

In place of a formal LDS Church endorsement, the letter is simply circulating the area and the effort is being led by Martha Schaerr, a Mormon who is collecting within Montgomery County and within the Church. Another organizer is Teressa Wallace.

“We need to collect approximately 200,000 signatures by the end of May,” the email states. “We are looking for people to gather signatures within the LDS community.”

A source told the Blade that the email was sent to the more than 1,000 members and the author of the note is Wallace. Only 55,736 signatures are required to force the question to ballot in November and the stated goal of 200,000 is likely an attempt to deliver in case the validity of some signatures is challenged.

While acknowledging that Mormon Church leaders do not take any official position regarding party politics, they do advocate for members to take an active role in civic duties.

“The Church does encourage its members to play a role as responsible citizens, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections, and becoming engaged in the political process in an informed and civil manner,” the email states. “Please consider helping with this very important effort. Every signature is important and every little bit helps!”

The Mormon Church is avoiding any formal involvement with the efforts and Church spokesperson Dale Jones told the Blade that the effort is a grassroots one that is led by the volition of individual members.

“While the Church’s position in support of traditional marriage is well established, the effort in Maryland is not being organized through the Church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City,” Jones said. “Members, of course, will make their own decisions regarding their involvement in local issues.”

The Mormon Church took a leading role in the passage of Proposition 8 in California in 2008, which overturned gay marriage. The leadership of the Church publicly and vocally backed the initiative and encouraged members during services to contribute money and time to ensuring the measure’s success.

According to The New York Times, nearly half of the $40 million in donations to Protect Marriage, the organization responsible for Prop. 8, came from Mormons and LDS members accounted for 80 to 90 percent of the volunteers who did door-to-door precinct pre-election walks. The Mormon Church maintains its involvement was minimal and only donated approximately $190,000 to the effort. The Church’s involvement was seen largely as a public-relations debacle and a recent poll indicated that a main factor in many people who have left eh Mormon Church in recent years was its involvement in Prop. 8.

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