The Long March to the Mormon Temple
It was a little before ten o'clock on Wednesday evening, the day after Proposition 8 appeared to be approved by the voters of California, when Levi Jackman Foster arrived at the Los Angeles Mormon Temple in Westwood. He was 22-years-old, gay, and angry. Foster, a handsome blond with short hair and a two-day beard, was also an ex-Mormon.
"I completely abandoned the church because they abandoned me," Foster explained, as he stood on the sidewalk on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Foster, who wore a gray sweater, dark jeans, and leather boots, had just walked four miles from West Hollywood. Two hours earlier, several thousand gays, lesbians, and their straight friends gathered at San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards for a rally opposing the passage of Proposition 8, the ballot measure that eliminates the right of gays and lesbians to legally marry in California. His friend, Sean Hemeon, another ex-Mormon and a former boyfriend of Foster's, had made the march with him.
"When I heard people talking about walking to the temple," said Hemeon, "I knew I had to go."
Levi Jackman Foster looked through the gates at the Los Angeles Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Boulevard in Westwood.
Hemeon was also handsome, 27-years-old, and wore leather shoes, blue jeans, and a dark jacket. Both of the young men were better dressed for a night of club hopping than demonstrating on the streets of Los Angeles, but they were very serious about the long walk they had just completed with a hundred or so strangers, who carried "No on 8" signs and chanted "Equal rights!"
"Proposition 8 is tearing my family apart," said Foster, who then explained that his parents had donated money and voted in favor of Proposition 8. "They weren't going to vote on it," Foster continued, "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 had contributed tens of millions of dollars to the "Yes on 8" campaign.
By this time, Foster was getting antsy, and led a group away from the wrought iron gates on Santa Monica Boulevard and toward a side street and up to the gates at the front entrance. Two guards in white shirts and black jackets stood on the other side of the gates, waiting for the "No on 8" crowd.
Sean Hemeon returns to the Mormon Temple on Thursday afternoon.
"The Mormons have been oppressed minorities in the past," Foster said, "and now they're doing the same thing to us. It's something the church doesn't get."
Foster kept walking to the gate, and Hemeon followed. Hemeon was thinking about how things went wrong on Tuesday night.
"A lot of gay men sat back and expected other people to do the work," he said. "I was one of them."
Hemeon never would have gotten involved in the "No on 8" campaign, where he worked at a phone bank and handed out literature on Election Day, 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 recalled, "but he knew I wasn't happy. He could see it on my face."
That happened three weeks ago. As soon as Hemeon returned to West Hollywood, where he lives, he volunteered for the "No on 8" campaign. Hemeon also sent his brother an email, telling him what he thought about the sign and that he still loved him.
"I didn't get a response back until twenty minutes after the LA Times called the vote for the 'Yes' side," he said with a bit of disappointment. "I haven't responded to him yet, but I will."
Foster stood at the gate and looked at the guards.
"Is there someone we can have a dialogue with?" he asked.
The guard told him the church was closed for the evening and no one was around. Foster stared at them. Hemeon looked at the crowd and smiled.
"In some ways, I think this thing is great," he said. "It's making us face ourselves and what we have to do for equality, and it's making my family and I talk about these things."
Foster then led the crowd back to the gates on Santa Monica Boulevard. Just before everyone started the four-mile walk to West Hollywood, he gathered them around.
"There are Mormons here tonight who have been kicked out their homes," he told them, "so we need to show up tomorrow and let them what we think!"
The crowd roared, and Hemeon said he, too, would come back to the temple for the "No on 8" rally on Thursday, even though it started in the middle of the day at 2 p.m.
"I feel like I have to be," he said. "It's a part of my healing process."
Hemeon and Foster found a ride back to West Hollywood and joined the crowd that still stood in the middle of San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards at eleven-thirty at night. The chants, clapping, and whistles drowned out the dance music coming out from Rage, a nearby gay nightclub. People like Hemeon and Foster could be heard from several blocks away.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.