Activists are calling for a tourism boycott of Utah after the Mormon Church exerted tremendous influence in the passing of California’s Proposition 8 to overturn gay marriage. The church, which counts 62 percent of Utah’s population among its members, pursued an aggressive grassroots strategy in the Yes on 8 campaign, drawing on manpower and donating $40 million to the cause.
Bloggers and gay rights campaigners are outraged by the reversal and seek to punish the church for its role in the ban. Their main tactic is to encourage citizens to boycott Utah’s $6 billion tourism industry, particularly the glitzy Sundance Film Festival (held each January). John Aravosis, editor of the influential americablog.com and a central figure in organizing the boycott, told the AP, “The main focus is going after the Utah brand . . . It is a hate state.”
E! Online also reported that Alan Stock, CEO of Cinemark, a movie chain that will be used during Sundance, donated almost $10,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign.
However, the boycott is a controversial and complex issue. Some Mormons—including the family of former 49-er quarterback Steve Young—supported the No on 8 campaign, and Utah Senator Scott McCoy is openly gay. In addition, Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival takes place in Park City, one of Utah’s most liberal and progressive communities. As one Sundance spokesperson told The Independent, “Sundance was founded on the idea of championing diversity and freedom of expression. It would be a grave disappointment to us if our festival were to be singled out for a boycott.”
Moreover, if the boycott went ahead, independent producers who rely on Sundance to promote their films would be left high and dry, a double blow in an already frosty economic climate. Others who are not involved with the Mormon Church but who work in Utah’s thriving tourism industry might also lose income, or, worse, be out of a job.
Sundance organizers hope that activists instead boycott only those businesses that donated money to the Yes on 8 campaign. But Aravosis is firm: “We need to send a message to Utah that they need to stop trying to inflict their way of life on every other state.”