The Ex-Mormon Factor

A little before 10 p.m. on Wednesday, the night after Proposition 8 was approved by the voters of California, Levi Jackman Foster arrives at the Los Angeles Mormon Temple with scores of protestors after marching four miles from a rally in West Hollywood, which drew several thousand. Foster, a handsome blond, is 22, gay and angry. He’s also an ex-Mormon, the great-great-grandson of Nathaniel Tanner, one of the founders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and a relation to Levi Jackman, who surveyed the land where the church created its national headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I completely abandoned the church because it abandoned me,” Foster explains on the sidewalk outside the temple on Santa Monica Boulevard. Now, he says, “Proposition 8 is tearing my family apart.”

Foster’s parents donated money and voted in favor of the ballot measure that eliminates the right of gays and lesbians to legally marry in California. “They weren’t going to vote on it,” Foster says, “but the church told them to, so they did. They also gave money to ‘Yes on 8’ because the church told them to do that.” Members of the Mormon church contributed tens of millions of dollars to the “Yes on 8” campaign.

“The Mormons have been oppressed minorities in the past,” Foster says, as he looks through the temple gates, “and now they’re doing the same thing to us. It’s something the church doesn’t get.”

Foster, in a gray sweater, dark jeans and leather boots, is here with former boyfriend Sean Hemeon, 27, another ex-Mormon. Both men are dressed more for a night of club hopping than demonstrating on the streets of Los Angeles, but they are serious about the long walk they’ve just completed with a hundred or so strangers, who carry “No on 8” signs and chant “Equal rights!”

“A lot of gay men sat back and expected other people to do the work,” says Hemeon, thinking about how things went wrong on Election Day. “I was one of them.”

Hemeon didn’t get involved in the “No on 8” campaign until he visited his brother in another part of California. When Hemeon drove up to the house, he saw a “Yes on 8” sign in the front yard.

“I didn’t say anything at the time,” Hemeon admits, “but he knew I wasn’t happy. He could see it on my face.”

That happened three weeks ago. As soon as Hemeon returned home to West Hollywood, he volunteered for the “No on 8,” working the phone banks and passing out campaign literature on Election Day. Hemeon also sent his brother an e-mail, telling him what he thought about the sign but that he still loved him.

“I didn’t get a response,” he says, “until 20 minutes after the L.A. Times called the vote for the ‘Yes’ side.”

At this point, Foster gets antsy and leads a group away from the wrought-iron gates on Santa Monica Boulevard, onto a side street and up to the temple’s front entrance. Two guards in white shirts and black jackets stand on the other side of the gates.

“Is there someone we can have a dialogue with?” Foster asks the guards.

The guard tells him the church is closed for the evening and no one is around. Foster stares at the guards. It occurs to him that if the protestors can return the next day, they will effectively stop Mormon church members from getting married.

“A temple is the only place [Mormons] can get married if they want to get sealed to God,” Foster says. “Whenever protesters show up, they close the gates [at the temple] so no one can get in. It becomes a convent where no one can get married.”

Foster leads the crowd back to the gates on Santa Monica and just before everyone starts the long walk back to West Hollywood, he gathers everyone around.

“There are Mormons here tonight who have been kicked out their homes,” he tells the protesters, “so we need to show up tomorrow and let them what we think!”

The crowd roars. When Thursday comes, thousands of “No on 8” protesters shut down the Los Angeles Mormon Temple. For the entire day and into the night, the iconic building is surrounded by LAPD officers, who seal off the temple’s perimeter so no one can enter or exit. Without fully realizing it, gay-marriage proponents have stumbled upon an effective protest tool — close down a temple, and Mormons, too, will not be able to marry each other. It’s one of those odd twists the leaders of the Mormon church probably never saw coming.

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