It's one of those odd twists that leaders of the Mormon Church probably never saw coming. Whenever opponents of Proposition 8, the ballot measure that eliminates the right of gays and lesbians to legally marry in California, protest outside a Mormon temple, they effectively stop church members from getting married, according Levi Jackman Foster, an ex-Mormon who lives in West Hollywood.
Los Angeles Police Department officers guarded the Los Angeles Mormon Temple during a "No on 8" protest this past Thursday.
Foster, a 22-year-old, openly gay man, should know. As the great-great-grandson of Nathaniel Tanner, one of the founders of the Mormon Church, Foster has an intimate knowledge of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The ex-Mormon is also related to Levi Jackman, who surveyed the land where the church created its national headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.
"A temple is the only place (Mormons) can get married," Foster says, "if they want to get sealed to God."
A Mormon temple, in other words, plays a vital role in a religion that strongly promotes marriage among its members.
"Whenever protesters show up," Foster explains further, "they close the gates (at the temple) so no one can get in. It becomes a convent where no one can get married."
On Thursday, thousands of "No on 8" protesters, most of whom were probably unaware of the importance of a temple, shut down the Los Angeles Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Boulevard in Westwood. For the entire day and into the night, the iconic building was surrounded by Los Angeles Police Department officers, who sealed off its perimeter so no one could enter or exit. "No on 8" supporters will demonstrate again in Westwood on Sunday.
Temples in Los Angeles, San Diego, Redlands, and Newport Beach serve some 400,000 Mormons in Southern California. 80,000 Mormons live in Los Angeles County, according to Mark Paredes, a high counselor at the Santa Monica Mormon Church. Southern California, says Foster, is home to more Mormons than Salt Lake City.
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During the summer, leaders of the Mormon Church sent out a letter asking members to contribute money to the "Yes on 8" campaign. They responded by donating tens of millions of dollars. Since then, "No on 8" supporters have been looking at ways to hit the Mormon Church back, especially after Proposition 8 passed on Tuesday night. Without fully realizing it, gay marriage proponents have stumbled onto an effective protest tool--close down a temple, and Mormons, too, will not be able to marry each other.
"No one really knows about this," says Foster, who's been active in the various "No on 8" marches in Los Angeles, "so I've been trying to get the word out."
(CORRECTION: A previous post stated there are "two" Mormon temples in Southern California. In fact, there are four.)
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.