8: The Mormon Proposition is almost certainly a film that will make you angry. That’s the point — it’s a documentary that unapologetically outlines the Mormon Church’s role in (as the film contends, orchestrating) the Proposition 8 campaign in California in 2008 — the infamous piece of legislation that banned gay marriage in the state.
Milk screenwriter (and former Mormon) Dustin Lance Black narrates the story, which mixes the usual “talking heads” interviews with on-the-scene footage from the events at hand, making for an engaging, positively infuriating documentary experience.
The film begins with a decidedly creepy shot of a Mormon church leader, addressing his congregation during a televised religious conference broadcast about supporting California’s Proposition 8. He calls them “a mighty army” and dictates: “Let us be strong in defending our position.” We soon find out that this particular broadcast was akin to a call to arms to the entire Mormon world — to support the efforts in organizing “Prop 8."
Immediately after, and in stark contrast to this foreboding opening, is a joyful, colorful shot of gay Star Trek actor George Takei, celebrating the historic day — June 17, 2008 — when gay marriage became legal in California. Those familiar with the history (naturally, the intended audience here) will know just how short-lived this happiness would be. What 8 unveils, however, is just how instrumental the message of the first scene would be to destroying the promise of the second.
The entire film builds on this premise. It details all the ways the elders mobilized the base to get Prop 8 going strong, even using “code” language and serious scare tactics, including going to people’s homes and demanding money. Churchgoers were told — in no uncertain terms — to donate money and time to the cause because the success of Prop 8 was integral to their faith.
Scene by scene, damning evidence is brought up by private investigators, elected officials, ex-Mormons, official Church documents and on-the-scene footage of Church leaders making disdainful comments about queer people. Some of their tactics are merely underhanded — the leaders allegedly used a sort of umbrella coalition and a random post-office box to handle financial matters — and some are outright shocking. One witness contends that families were threatened with being cut off from the church if they did not give money to the cause.
Julie Stoddard, who survived
The film follows the timeline between June and November, showing the California opinion polls edge ever in favor of Prop 8 as we see the slick (and horrifying) ads (funded largely by the Mormon coalition) that portray Prop 8 as sort of beckoning call to protecting religious freedom. Anti-gay sentiment abounds. Lies, often particularly vicious lies, litter the landscape of the ads.
Despite the potential comic value of the awful “gathering storm” TV spots that queer comedians have used as fodder ever since, the sheer weight of the bigotry and intolerance is crushing. To anyone who actively followed the ordeal, be warned: watching these scenes has the potential to rip open those barely-healed scars.
Interspersed with the main narrative are interviews with couples and families who were affected by the successful effort. At front and center are Spencer and Tyler, a young gay couple — both young men from the Mormon faith — who married on June 17. Spencer and Tyler tell the camera how they met, their excitement and joy over getting married — and their pain when Prop 8 passed. Effectively serving as the human factor in the story, Tyler and Spencer are not the only queer people showcased in the film — but they are right at the heart of the struggle for acceptance.
Going a step deeper, Tyler’s mother is a constant presence in the film, a Mormon woman who rejected the church’s teachings on this issue and fully supports her son. In one tearful interview, she proclaims: “I just want all of my children to have equal rights!”
Unfortunately, most of her family disagrees. Spencer’s family basically disowns him outright — and most of Tyler’s family has severed ties as well.