JANE ANN MORRISON: Letter from member of Reid's church illustrates wide
rift on gay marriage
Politicians are used to getting harsh letters critical of positions they
take, but a recent letter to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid from a high-ranking
member of his church shows the depth and passion that some Mormons feel
about the need to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
Reid, leader of the Senate's Democrats, says he believes marriage should
be between a man and a woman, and he voted for a state ballot question
placing that language into the Nevada Constitution, yet he opposes
placing the ban in the U.S. Constitution. He said he believes
Republicans raised the amendment as a political ploy to help them during
the upcoming election season.
"This is another one of the president's efforts to frighten, to distort,
to distract and to confuse America. It is this administration's way of
avoiding the tough, real problems," he said in a Senate speech on June 5
before the vote. Congress should be addressing the war, high gasoline
prices and other serious issues instead of debating the banning of gay
marriages, he said.
His opposition to a federal constitutional amendment puts Reid at odds
with top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who
asked church members to support the amendment and to encourage their
congressional delegation to support it.
Some weeks after a Senate vote on whether to end debate on the
amendment, Reid wrote a letter to Nevada Mormon bishops explaining his
position. That letter sparked a letter from James Howard, president of
the Las Vegas East Stake between 1994 and 2005, who wrote to Reid in the
strongest possible language.
Howard wrote that by not supporting the constitutional amendment, "You
chose your party's agenda over Nevadans', over your Prophets' wishes,
and defied God in the process. ... You have sold out for power and
position. Whining about how offended you are that your 'Brethren' are
not supportive of you anymore is not becoming of a leader of such high
position. Justifying your weak stance in direct opposition to your
Church's position is lame. You fear your party more than God."
Howard concluded: "But having sold out your Church, your State and
possibly your soul for political power, I will have a hard time
supporting you or voting for you in the future, should you attempt to
hold on to your seat. Your soul is vacant, and you have lost your moral
Howard said he never intended the letter to become public and regrets
that it has.
"This was a personal letter. I was not speaking for anybody else. I was
not speaking for the Church. It was my opinion," he said.
However, he stands by what he wrote.
Howard's letter shows the depth of feeling that many people have about a
gay marriage amendment and the delicate tightrope Reid walks in
balancing his faith with his political positions. While gay rights
activists consider Reid a friend because of his position, he clearly has
lost support among Mormons.
Reid never responded to Howard's July 30 letter, nor did he have any
comment for this column. Instead, his office provided a copy of his
original letter to the bishops. He reminded them that he voted for the
Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 to deny federal recognition of same-sex
marriage and not require a state to recognize other states' marriage laws.
"I understand that others differ with me on this issue, and that their
opinions are sincerely and deeply held," Reid wrote.
"I respect their right to hold and express those opinions. I expect
those who differ with me to give me the same consideration," he wrote.
"I have been shocked and offended at the malice and rancor with which
many who disagree with me on this issue have personally attacked me.
Frankly, I expect better of my fellow saints who share with me reverence
for Jesus's example of forbearance, patience, and love."
It's impossible to know whether Howard's position is held by a majority
or a minority of LDS church members, so it's impossible to evaluate
whether Reid's position is more of a political gain with gay rights
activists or a political loss among his church's members. But it can't
be easy receiving a furious letter like Howard's, knowing you are in a
no-win situation that never will be resolved or go away, and that
nobody's opinion ever will be changed, which is why it's the perfect
Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail
her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0275.
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