PARK CITY, Utah — Despite rumored anti-gay protests, a Sundance Film Festival documentary about the Mormon church's role in a 2008 California political battle over gay marriage played to a friendly audience on Sunday in Park City.
Only about two dozen gay marriage activists chanted — "Separate, church from 8" — in a parking lot outside the premiere of "8: The Mormon Proposition."
The film by Reed Cowan, a former Utah Mormon, contends that the locally based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the driving force behind Proposition 8. The ballot initiative reversed an earlier court decision that legalized gay marriage.
Before the screening, festival director John Cooper had said he expected a small, but loud, group of "haters," might picket the film, but doubted that Mormon church members would be among them.
"It's not really the Mormon style," said Cooper, who is gay and married his partner of 20 years last year during the window between the court ruling and election day.
A Utah-based anti-gay equality group, America Forever, sent out 80,000 faxes on Friday denouncing the movie, its makers and the festival on Friday. Internet chatter among other anti-gay groups had also hinted they might come to Sundance, activist Eric Ethington said.
"They must be in church today," said Emily Pearson, one of the movie's producers.
Mormon church officials have consistently called for a polite, respectful dialogue on the issue. The church has actively fought marriage equality legislation across the U.S. since the early 1990s.
Mormon leaders, however do not oppose civil unions or other limited rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, as long as those rights don't infringe on religious liberties. In the fall, the church backed a Salt Lake City ordinance that made it illegal to discriminate against LGBT individuals in housing and employment matters.
Last year at the urging of church leaders, Mormons donated tens of millions of dollars to the "Yes on 8" campaign and were among the most vigorous volunteers. After the vote, many gay rights advocates turned their anger toward the church in protests and marches outside temples that singled out Mormons as the key culprits in restricting the rights of gay couples.
Church officials have not seen the film, spokeswoman Kim Farah said.
"Judging from the trailer and background material online, it appears that accuracy and truth are rare commodities in this film," Farah said. "Although we have given many interviews on this topic we had no desire to participate in something so obviously biased."
Narrated by Academy Award winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black — also gay and raised Mormon — the film chronicles the campaign and includes personal stories from straight and gay Mormons, including newlyweds Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones, who married in San Francisco on June 17, 2008, the first day same sex marriage was legal in California.
Barrick, a nurse, and Jones, an attorney, are reluctant activists and movie stars. Both were raised Mormon.
"The film found us," said Jones. "We're just two gay guys from Utah who were able to get married. Our story is really a lot of people's story."
That story includes extended families who are split on the issue of their marriage. Barrick's St. George-based parents Steve and Linda Stay have backed the couple and quit the church over the issue. Jones's family remains active in the church and objected to the marriage. In the movie, Jones says his family "refused to find any joy" in his happiness.
"I hope they don't see (the film) as an attack on the Mormon church," said Jones. "It's not about that. The message is mutual respect. We should be just as respected under the laws of California as anyone else."