Washington » In a meeting with gay-rights activists last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid criticized the LDS Church for backing a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in California, saying the leaders of his faith should have stayed out of the contentious political fight.
Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, is the highest ranking elected official who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He previously has not commented on the flood of Mormon money and volunteers who helped propel Proposition 8 to victory in November.
But three organizers of the past weekend's National Equality March said Reid brought up the topic during a conversation in his office.
"He said that he thought it was a waste of church resources and good will," said Derek Washington, a Nevadan who worked as the outreach director for the march. "He said he didn't think it was appropriate."
Reid spokesman Jon Summers would not discuss the private meeting, but he didn't deny the conversation took place.
"While Senator Reid agrees with his church that marriage is between a man and a woman," Summers said, "he also believes that the resources that went into the Proposition 8 effort could have been put to better use."
LDS Church officials declined to comment Monday. But Frank Schubert, campaign manager for the pro-Prop 8 movement, said: "All churches have not only the opportunity to speak out on important public issues, but really a moral obligation to do so."
The Mormon Church, headquartered in Salt Lake City, repeatedly has fought attempts to legalize same-sex marriages. California's Prop 8 was no different. Church leaders announced their support in a letter that was read during Sunday services in meetinghouses throughout the Golden State. LDS officials called for financial donations and volunteers. Members of the church did not disappoint.
More than 1,000 Utahns contributed either individually or through a business to the Prop 8 fight, giving $3.8 million. More than 70 percent of that cash went to groups backing the gay-marriage ban. Utah ranked second only to California in the amount given to the ballot battle.
The LDS Church kicked in nearly $190,000 in in-kind contributions to ProtectMarriage.com, the leading pro-Prop. 8 group. In the end, Prop 8 passed with 52 percent of the vote.
Marchers in Sunday's equality rally, which drew tens of thousands to the U.S. Capitol, repeatedly referenced the Prop 8 defeat in signs, statements and even face paint. But when organizers sat down with Reid, it wasn't a topic they intended to raise. They wanted to thank him for supporting the march and push him on their desire for federal action giving gay Americans the ability to get married, serve openly in the military and fight workplace discrimination.
Reid signed a letter supporting the march and encouraged a sustained lobbying campaign.
In the meeting, those present touched on issues most important to them. Dan Choi, a veteran of the Iraq War, who was booted from the military under the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, thanked Reid for lobbying President Barack Obama on his behalf. Robin McGehee, of California, talked about her own family. Then, McGehee said, Reid brought up his LDS faith and discussed a recent meeting with Mormons in which he criticized the Prop 8 efforts.
"He personally said they needed to be focused on other things," she said, "and he felt it was harmful for the church to focus on such a divisive issue."
A difference of opinion
The LDS Church's Web site includes a political neutrality statement that says, in part, Mormon leaders may communicate their views to Mormon elected officials as they would with other politicians, but that it shouldn't be surprising if some disagree.
The statement reads: "Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated church position."