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Film & TV

'Mormon Proposition' about 'holy war'

Former Mormon and Utahn writer/director talks to CW

By Jesse Fruhwirth
Posted // October 23,2009 -
“I love Mormons,” was the last thing filmmaker Reed Cowan said to me. “I just want them to love me back.”

Cowan is the writer, director and executive producer of the upcoming feature documentary 8:The Mormon Proposition, about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' involvement in Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in California.

The trailer (see below) was played more than 26,000 times on YouTube after its release this week.

Cowan is a native Utahn--now living in Florida--former Mormon, gay father of 16-month-old twin boys, and returned LDS missionary. He worked for KTVX Channel 4 in Salt Lake City.

Cowan says his film begins before Prop. 8 in 2008. The church, his film reveals, has a long history of inserting itself into politics when gay issues are on the ballot.

“You will see how the LDS Church took their beliefs and doctrines and put that directly in public policy in Hawaii, then replicated that plan across the U.S.,” Cowan said.

The film didn't start out, however, as an investigation into the LDS Church's political maneuvers.

Cowan set out in 2008 to make a film about homeless Mormon teens in Salt Lake City who say they were kicked out of their homes when they came out as gay. But as the year progressed, the Prop. 8 fight got louder, hotter and more Mormon.

“I began to realize the teachings of Mormon leaders resulted not only in homeless teenagers, but also one of the largest ballot-measure shams in the history of the United States,” Cowan said. “The film is going to show you that many [critics] of the LDS Church's efforts believe misinformation was spread rampantly in California by Mormon members.”

That false information included, Cowan said, that a failure to pass Prop. 8 would force the LDS Church to perform gay marriages, a suggestion none other than firebrand former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson claims is “patently false,” in 8.

The film also features Utahn and Mormon author, poet and playwright Carol Lynn Pearson(Facing East, Goodbye I Love You). KRCL's Troy Williams, a radio producer and playright (The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon), also appears in the film. Utah County gay-rights stalwart Bruce Bastian is Cowan's other executive producer. Utah documentarian Steven Greentstreet (This Divided State, Killer at Large), is also a producer (to read City Weekly's interview with Greenstreet about 8, click here). Former Utahns Spencer Jones and Tyler Barrick also play key roles, if the trailer is any indication.

Academy Award winnerDustin Lance Black, himself a former Mormon and gay man, voices the narration of the film. He won an Oscar last year for the screenplay to Milk.

That may be helping the film's business prospects, but certainly the hard-hitting trailer has raised curiosity about the film as well.

“I've had two jaw-dropping majors [distribution companies] out-of-the-blue call me, pretty much saying, 'What do you want?'” Cowan says. Usually bidding wars for film distribution happen after the distributors have seen the film. “What we're telling everyone is we're sticking to festivals first, then distribution.”

When and where the movie will premiere depends on which festivals accept the film.

cowan-reed_1.jpg8 is Cowan's second film. His first, The Other Side of the Lens, discussed the death of his first son. Cowan is hoping admission to the Sundance Film Festival will give him a great reason to return home, at least for awhile.

The release of the trailer this week also had another effect. Many blogs authored by Mormons, Cowan said, have attacked him and the individuals in his film before they've seen it. “I think they forgot the first rule, which is to love.” That treatment began months ago, however. An interview Cowan did with Utah Sen. Chris Buttars for 8, in which Buttars discusses “pig sex” and other justifications for his homophobia created a media firestorm when it was leaked in March.

8 does not make fun of Mormon beliefs, but Cowan said they are discussed in great detail. One must understand the Mormon concept of the afterlife—in which family and marriage play crucial roles—in order to get to the root of the church's denouncement of homosexuality, he said. “There's nothing that mocks or makes fun of Mormon beliefs. We lay out the doctrines in a respectful way.”

Cowan said he believes the LDS Church will someday change its views on homosexuality, but said the struggle will be as difficult as it was for African Americans. Until 1978, black Mormons could not hold the priesthood. For now, at least, gay Mormons can only remain in the church if they swear off any sexual activity with a person of the same gender. “Let's call it what it is,” Cowan said, “it's a holy war.”

It's clear Cowan is angry and disappointed at the church, but like many gay former Mormons, his family is still devout and the church still has a presence in his life as a result. Contrary to rumors I've heard, he and partner Greg Abplanalp, both originally of Roosevelt, Utah, didn't leave the state because of the homophobic political climate, but for job opportunities.

The best question I asked Cowan tried to prick at those conflicts between family, faith, history and sex. I asked him if anything about his film makes him nervous. He paused longer after that question than after any other.

“I have dear friends who are Mormons,” he began finally. “I have a heritage that goes very far back into Mormon history. I'm proud of my Mormon heritage. And, anyone who knows me, knows I can't stand when somebody else hurts. It kills me. If I have trepidation, it's that when growth happens, there's a period of pain. I hate that the content of this film will likely cause a period of pain for people I love.”


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Posted // June 30,2011 at 13:31 Mr. Cowan,
I hope you see this message. Sadly you'r Trailor has been removed. I too am from Rossevelt, now living in Washington State. Just wanted to send you love and a Congratulations on a message that needs to be addressed. I wish great success for you. (I know Greg well, his father used to paddle me in Elementry!)


Posted // October 28,2009 at 08:36

As a PS - this time directed at Cowan and other homosexual former LDS members - the Church is not "causing" loads of homeless teens roaming the streets. Homosexuality is a choice. Leaving home is also a choice that, granted, some homosexual teens may have made if their parents would not allow them to practice homosexuality under their roof. But I think it far more likely that a few teens (not droves of them) may have made that choice on their own than that their parents drove them out of the house and stand idly by, doing nothing, while watching them endure street life. I say this because I have heard nothing at church supporting the idea of kicking homosexual or other children out of the house and leaving them to take care of themselves; quite the opposite, I have heard several talks about letting children know that you cannot condone their behavior, while still loving them and letting them know they are always part of the family.

Again, I would like to know the evidence that Cowan has for saying there is a "sham" that went on related to Prop 8? He makes the accusation, as did several other homosexuals, that even resulted in an investigation, but I have yet to hear anything illegal that the Church did.


Posted // October 28,2009 at 08:23

Thank you, Thomas. Wexler, I would like to know your evidence for stating that those of us who are LDS (Mormon) do not belong to a church but to an illegal cult...? In the meantime, it may be informative for you to read a little bit about the thank-you petition to the LDS Church, sent around and signed by those of various other Christian faiths, who also believe that homosexuality is sinful, and that the family unit is too important to society for us to tamper with it in order to justify selfish adult behavior. Do you believe they are also cults rather than churches? If not, your definition is narrow, and if so, it becomes obvious that you simply refuse to acknowledge the reality that there are religious people and who happen to disagree with you.

Similarly, your comment that homosexual marriage would not affect those of us who are religious is uninformed. There have been several religious people - most of them not Mormon - who have been successfully sued, or even lost their jobs, because they did not agree with homosexual marriage: photographers who refused to photograph homosexual "weddings," churches who refused to lend out their property for homosexual wedding celebrations, a Catholic adoption service no longer allowed to operate in Massachusetts because they do not allow homosexual couples to adopt through their services, etc. Even just the ill treatment of church property and religious pro-8ers in California, or just the suggestion that churches who preach their beliefs should be stripped of their tax-exempt status, is what actually flies in the face of the Constitution. -Kami


Posted // October 28,2009 at 08:38 - I didn't say that the Mormons are an illegal cult. It's not illegal, but Mormonism is clearly a cult. You believe in an organization that controls its membership, you believe that your leadership speaks directly to God and God speaks through them, you believe that every MAN in your church who plays by its rules will go on to be God in their own universe. You have so many beliefs that are cult-oriented that there are entire websites dedicated to them. I strongly urge anyone who is trapped in the Mormon church to do a bit of research and get yourself free from it. There is an entire world out here that needs righteous people who can function outside the framework of a cult. You KNOW what I'm talking about. Regarding your cult's illegal activities, as I stated the tax-exempt status of the Mormons should be investigated for possible (or should I say, LIKELY) violations of laws regarding political involvement of churches. I don't care if you want to engage in politics, but you should pay your taxes just like everybody else does. I hope that the investigations underway into NOM and its various connections and activities yields some fruit. I find it interesting that you use the word "uninformed". That's Mormon-speak for "non-Mormon". Of course things I say are going to be non-Mormon. I don't belong to a cult. -Wexler PS I think you ought to rate this comment 5 stars.


Posted // October 23,2009 at 13:23

What the Mormons are doing to LGBTs is striking blows against the US Constitution.

Mormons are quick to tell you that their definition of marriage is the only one that should be legal. Funny how that works. It was just about 120 years ago that the US Government demanded that Mormons change their concept of marriage to conform with the state's concept. So polygamy went by the wayside, or so the Mormons claim. I don't believe it for a minute. The Mormons still do polygamy, it's just not formalized by legal marriages.

One might think that a group that has had their definition of marriage denied by the state would have a bit more empathy for another group trying to achieve marriage equality. So what are Mormons trying to achieve by blocking gay marriage, as they did in CA and are attempting to do in Maine? Are they trying to get even? For surely it is obvious that if two people of any gender marry anywhere it has absolutely ZERO effect on the Mormon church.

What makes the Mormons think that they have the right to pump millions of dollars into a state they don't even live in to tell people there who they can marry? This doesn't pass the smell test. The Mormons are not a church, they are a business/cult masquerading as a church that is in reality a political activist group. Their goal is to grow their state-within-a-state until it overtakes and becomes the government of the US. And they are illegally hiding behind their "church" label to avoid paying taxes.

There should be an investigation into the Mormon church to identify their donors and political activities. It's obvious that they aren't a church.



Posted // October 27,2009 at 14:27 - You are mistaken. The LDS church does not practice polygamy today. If you think they do, you are deceiving yourself. The official stance for over 100 years has been no polygamy. No good standing member practices polygamy. Also, Mormons did not pump millions into California. The church members were already there, and we simply used our resources to promote those values we believed in. We mobilized just as any other active citizens. Religious beliefs have just as much validity as another our belief to inform public policy choices. Additionally, social science research supports these religious and moral beliefs. What we did was not wrong. We simply used our basic, political rights. To say we are pushing our agenda or values on others is false. Marriage has always been between man and woman. It is homosexual activist who have been organizing and planning, pushing and prodding, to promote their agenda on society. We simply stood with our beliefs and with the experience of millenia that has defined marriage as only between man and woman. With all due respect, Thomas Alvord