Organized religion in this country does a lot of good, but it can also cause much pain and suffering. I realized just how much when I discovered everything the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with help from the Catholic Church, had done in 2008 to take away civil rights from LGBT people in California. That’s when these two religions successfully led the effort to qualify and pass Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California.
All gay married Mormon couples were banned from the Church, as were their children. Within months of the new policy, 26 LGBT Mormon teenagers from Utah committed suicide.
Wrong. On November 5, 2015, just four months after the United States Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the land, the Mormon Church issued a new policy, which was leaked ahead of its planned announcement. It stated that all gay married Mormon couples were banned from the Church, as were their children. The hurt to these LGBT couples and their children was unimaginable. Within months of the new policy, 26 LGBT Mormon teenagers from Utah reportedly committed suicide. The count has risen over the past 19 months and attempted teenage suicides have soared, according to Mama Dragons, a gay-straight advocacy and support organization founded by Mormon moms who have LGBT children. This must stop. The Church should be held accountable.
We're now fighting back on behalf of all these young people who are suffering. Heeding Pope Francis’ words from two years ago—that if a religion becomes more of a business, it should pay taxes—we’re working to challenge the Mormon Church’s sacrosanct tax-exempt status. With an estimated income of $7 to $8 billion per year, that could really sting, but it’s nothing compared to the pain of a teenager who contemplates taking his or her life after being cast out by their religion, community or family. We want to challenge the Church—a multinational business that we believe has up to $1 trillion on which it appears no taxes are paid—on the hundreds of “tax-exempt” businesses it owns.
As the LGBT Community celebrates Pride this month, know that things are getting better all over the country. Recent national polls show public support for gay marriage has risen to a record 64 percent. The very religions that have worked so hard and spent so much money to attack the LGBT community for decades are going to have to change with the times and embrace equality if they are going to survive.
Let us celebrate all our progress and success, but let us not sit ideally by. We as a community, with the help of our millions of allies, need to hold those who want to hurt us accountable. We need the freedom of religion in this country, but we also need the freedom from religion.
Fred Karger is the first openly gay presidential candidate from a major political party in American history and has worked on nine presidential campaigns, serving as a senior consultant on campaigns for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford. He retired after 27 years and has since become an activist for gay rights causes, including his organization Californians Against Hate (now Rights Equal Rights).
If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, help is only one call away via the Trevor Lifeline, 866-488-7386, available 24/7.