Everyone Should Know the Story of Cary Crall

After serving a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, twenty-one year old Cary Crall returned home to Temecula, California, in July 2008, just in time for the beginnings of the Church’s intense campaign to pass Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in California.

Neither the campaign nor the rationale he was hearing from fellow Mormons in support of Proposition 8 sat well with Crall.

In August 2008, he left California for Church-owned Brigham Young University, where he resumed his studies as a neuroscience and mathematics major. But the campaign followed him across state lines. In conversations with non-LDS friends back home in California, Crall relates, “I found myself half-heartedly repeating some of the anti-gay marriage arguments I had read in pamphlets given to me at church meetings. I felt myself losing integrity and self-respect. I wondered why God would ever want me to do things against my own rationality and conscience.”

After Proposition 8 passed, Crall continued to wrestle with questions of obedience and conscience. In August 2010, when Judge Vaughn Walker of California’s Northern District Court issued his ruling overturning the same-sex marriage ban, Crall read the ruling in its entirety, paying close attention to the ruling’s numerous “findings of fact” that showed many of the major claims made by Proposition 8 supporters unsupportable by evidence.

Walker’s ruling moved Crall to put his thoughts to paper, working with editors of the Brigham Young University student newspaper the Daily Universe to produce an editorial asking hard, earnest questions about what motivated Mormon participation in the Yes on 8 campaign.

The editorial (which I’ll reprint in full here for reasons that will soon become clear) went up on The Daily Universe’s Web site in the early morning hours of Tuesday, September 7:

Defending Proposition 8—It’s time to admit the reasons

By CARY CRALL

Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the recent United States District Court case that overturned Proposition 8, highlighted a disturbing inconsistency in the pro-Prop. 8 camp. 

The arguments put forth so aggressively by the Protect Marriage coalition and by LDS church leaders at all levels of church organization during the campaign were noticeably absent from the proceedings of the trial. This discrepancy between the arguments in favor of Proposition 8 presented to voters and the arguments presented in court shows that at some point, proponents of Prop. 8 stopped believing in their purported rational and non-religious arguments for the amendment.

Claims that defeat of Prop. 8 would force religious organizations to recognize homosexual marriages and perform such marriages in their privately owned facilities, including LDS temples, were never mentioned in court. Similarly, the defense was unable to find a single expert witness willing to testify that state-recognized homosexual marriage would lead to forcing religious adoption agencies to allow homosexual parents to adopt children or that children would be required to learn about homosexual marriage in school.

Four of the proponents’ six expert witnesses who may have been planning on testifying to these points withdrew as witnesses on the first day of the trial. Why did they go and why did no one step up to replace them? Perhaps it is because they knew that their arguments would suffer much the same fate as those of David Blankenhorn and Kenneth Miller, the two expert witnesses who did agree to testify.

Judge Vaughn Walker, who heard the case, spent 11 pages of his 138-page decision meticulously tearing down every argument advanced by Blankenhorn before concluding that his testimony was “unreliable and entitled to essentially no weight.” Miller suffered similar censure after it was shown that he was unfamiliar with even basic sources on the subject in which he sought to testify as an expert.

The court was left with lopsided, persuasive testimony leading to the conclusion that Proposition 8 was not in the interest of the state and was discriminatory against gays and lesbians. Walker’s decision is a must-read for anyone who is yet to be convinced of this opinion. The question remains that if proponents of Prop. 8 were both unwilling and unable to support even one rational argument in favor of the amendment in court, why did they seek to present their arguments as rational during the campaign?

It is time for LDS supporters of Prop. 8 to be honest about their reasons for supporting the amendment. It’s not about adoption rights, or the first amendment or tradition. These arguments were not found worthy of the standards for finding facts set up by our judicial system. The real reason is that a man who most of us believe is a prophet of God told us to support the amendment. We must accept this explanation, along with all its consequences for good or ill on our own relationship with God and his children here on earth. Maybe then we will stop thoughtlessly spouting reasons that are offensive to gays and lesbians and indefensible to those not of our faith.

After running online for hours, Crall’s editorial disappeared from the Web edition of The Daily Universe by the morning of September 8. (I called The Daily Universe’s Editor in Chief on September 8 at about 11 a.m. PST to inquire about the status of the article; my call was not returned.) At 4 p.m. MST on September 8, The Daily Universe issued the following statement on the Web page where Crall’s article had been:

The Daily Universe made an independent decision to remove the student viewpoint titled “Defending Proposition 8” after being alerted by various readers that the content of the editorial was offensive. The publication of this viewpoint was not intended to offend, but after further review we recognized that it contained offensive content. This is consistent with policy that he Daily Universe has, on rare occasions, exercised in the past.

To be sure, there’s some fancy footwork going on in that statement. But setting aside the question about who took what kind of offense from Crall’s forceful but well reasoned essay, what I find truly revealing about the story of Cary Crall and his publication-then-censorship by The Daily Universe is the window it provides on how Mormon communities are just beginning to reckon with the legacy of Proposition 8.

In August, after Judge Vaughn Walker issued his ruling, I asked here at RD:

How will Mormons who gave copiously of their time and resources process this ruling? Will Mormon communities put behind us the half-truths and insinuations about same-sex-marriage as a threat to religious freedom and the welfare of children generated by paid Yes on 8 strategists, circulated anonymously through LDS Church channels and Mormon networks, and taken by many members as gospel truth?

Two years after that fateful campaign season, I’m hearing more orthodox rank-and-file Mormons say that the heavy-handed Yes on 8 campaign sowed long-lasting divisions in their families, congregations, or neighborhoods. And the Mormon grapevine is hot with reports that Church officials have been heard to say “we’ll not be doing that again.”

The story of Cary Crall shows that the wheels of self-examination are turning inside Mormon communities.

And the story of Cary Crall shows that Mormon traditional values of truth-seeking, kindness, pragmatism, and “daring to be different” can empower Mormons to take brave if unpopular stances in the service of conscience.

Finally, the story of Cary Crall is important because his publication-then-censorship by the Brigham Young University student newspaper shows how very conflicted, sensitive, and ambivalent Mormons at the institutional heart of our community remain about why we were asked to fight the Yes on 8 fight, what was won, what was lost, and what ends it has ultimately served.

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.