March 2010 Church & State | People & Events

Documents presented in a federal court case over same-sex marriages has exposed deep involvement by religious groups in a 2008 referendum that overturned such unions in California.

Lawyers David Boies and Theodore Olson have teamed up in court to argue that the California vote to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples violates the U.S. Constitution. The partnership raised eyebrows because the two come from opposite sides of the political spectrum. Boies is known for his liberal views, and Olson served as solicitor general in the administration of President George W. Bush.

Boies and Olson have filed the litigation in a federal court based in San Francisco. With the trial moving forward, the two have sought to show the discriminatory character of the same-sex marriage ban, including the extent of church involvement in outlawing such marriages in California.

Golden State voters narrowly approved Proposition 8 in November of 2008. The state constitutional amendment overturned a ruling by the California Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage.

Boies and Olson have introduced into evidence memos and e-mails that show how leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) worked in concert to win passage of Prop. 8.

For example, the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent an e-mail to bishops and a cardinal pointing out that Catholics had played a prominent role in lining up volunteers and donating money to win a spot for Prop. 8 on the ballot, reported the Los Angeles Times.

The same e-mail also praised the Mormon Church for its “financial, organizational and management contributions” for the measure.

Reported The Times, “A memo by a Mormon Church public affairs officer said the Proposition 8 campaign was ‘entirely under priesthood direction,’ and the minutes of a Mormon Church meeting said members should not take the lead in promoting Proposition 8 but should work through”

The Mormon document went on to report that church leaders in Salt Lake City had held a teleconference with 159 of 161 Mormon leaders in California. During the teleconference, Mormon leaders were told to encourage members to contribute $30 each for Prop. 8, with a goal of raising $5 million.

Church officials fought in court to keep the memos and other documents from becoming public. However, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that since church officials had worked so closely alongside same-sex marriage opponents in a public campaign, the material could be entered into the official record.

Walker noted that some of the church material ended up in the files of Mark Jansson, who was working on the anti-gay marriage campaign. The First Amendment’s guarantee of government non-interference in church matters “does not afford a right against the disclosure of his role, what he did,” Walker said. reported that in the memos, “LDS church officials cautioned that they shouldn’t be seen as taking the lead on Prop 8, but instead as part of a broader coalition. The church would give money and manpower, and use talking points supplied by the official campaign.”

The documents, the legal Web site went on to report, “also shed some light on the Prop 8 campaign’s finances.” They show, for example, that the campaign to gather signatures to get Prop. 8 on the ballot cost $1.5 million.

Reported, “The bulk of that money came from the LDS church, the Catholic Church in San Diego, a foundation run by wealthy conservative Howard Ahmanson, and assorted small donors.”