- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The anti-Mormon backlash after California voters overturned gay marriage last fall is similar to the intimidation of Southern blacks during the civil rights movement, a high-ranking Mormon said Tuesday.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks referred to gay marriage as an “alleged civil right” in an address at Brigham Young University-Idaho that church officials described as a significant commentary on current threats to religious freedom.

Mr. Oaks suggested that atheists and others are seeking to intimidate people of faith and silence their voices in the public square.

“The extent and nature of religious devotion in this nation is changing,” said Mr. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a church governing body. “The tide of public opinion in favor of religion is receding, and this probably portends public pressures for laws that will impinge on religious freedom.”

Mr. Oaks’ address comes as gay-rights activists mount a legal challenge to Proposition 8, the ballot measure that overturned gay marriage in California. His comments about civil rights angered gay rights supporters who consider the struggle to enact same-sex marriage laws as a major civil rights cause.

“Blacks were lynched and beaten and denied the right to vote by their government,” said Marc Solomon, marriage director for Equality California, which spearheaded the No on 8 campaign. “To compare that to criticism of Mormon leaders for encouraging people to give vast amounts of money to take away rights of a small minority group is illogical and deeply offensive.”

Mr. Solomon said the Mormon church - the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - hierarchy has every right to speak out, “but in the public sphere, one should expect that people will disagree.”

In an interview before the speech, Mr. Oaks said he did not consider it provocative to compare the treatment of Mormons in the election’s aftermath to that of blacks in the civil rights era, and said he stands by the analogy.

“It may be offensive to some - maybe because it hadn’t occurred to them that they were putting themselves in the same category as people we deplore from that bygone era,” said Mr. Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice who clerked for Chief Justice Earl Warren at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Salt Lake City-based Mormon church has shied from politics historically but was a key player in the pro-Proposition 8 coalition. The LDS First Presidency, the church’s highest governing body, announced its support for Proposition 8 in a letter read at every California congregation, and individual Mormons heeded the church’s calls to donate their money and time.

After the measure prevailed, its opponents focused much of their ire on Mormons, organizing boycotts of businesses with LDS ties and protests at Mormon worship places.

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