Three Hawaii representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have appealed a circuit court's ruling denying them the right to join with the state in its battle to keep same-sex marriages illegal.

With support of the church's leadership in Salt Lake City, the three representatives Wednesday filed a notice of appeal asking the Hawaii Supreme Court to allow them to become a party to a lawsuit that was filed against the state by three homosexual couples.The three couples sued the state for denying them marriage licenses.

Seeking a reversal of a lower court decision are President Charles W.H. Goo, a stake president who oversees a group of congregations in Laie; Bishop Delbert F. Kim, who presides over a congregation in Wahiawa; and Bishop Harry H. Brown Jr., leader of a congregation in Laie.

The three, who have a local attorney hired by the church's legal counsel, are representative of dozens of the church's clergy throughout the state.

Approximately 54,000 members of the church reside in Hawaii, said church spokesman Don LeFevre. Hawaii's population was estimated at 1.2 million at the end of 1993.

"We are urging the court to support Hawaii's families and not undermine them by radically redefining the institution of marriage," said Donald L. Hallstrom, a regional representative of the church in Hawaii.

"If the lower court's ruling is not overturned, Hawaii could be the first state to legalize homosexual and lesbian marriages. Gay couples could then be married in Hawaii, and other states could be required to legally recognize those marriages," Elder Hallstrom said.

The appeal of the church, which has repeatedly opposed efforts to legalize same-gender marriages, is based on the reasonable fear that the authority of Hawaii clergy to solemnize marriages could be lost if same-gender marriages are legalized and they (clergy) refused to perform them on the basis of their moral beliefs.

The church and its leaders are also supported in their efforts by the Catholic Church in Hawaii, where according to a poll, 66 percent of Hawaii citizens oppose legalization of homosexual and lesbian marriages.

In its original petition filed in February, the LDS Church said it could offer Attorney General Margery Bronster additional legal manpower, expert witnesses and research results as she prepares the case, which goes to trial Sept. 25.

State Judge Herbert Shimabukuro denied that petition March 30. The case against the state was filed in 1991 and appealed to the State Supreme Court in 1993.

The justices sent the case back to state court, saying the state must show a compelling interest why same-sex marriages should not be legal in Hawaii.

An attorney for the three couples said the LDS Church's motion to intervene was filed too late and has no legal standing.

The legal action in Hawaii has implications for other states, including Utah, where a poll taken earlier this year by pollster Dan Jones & Associates shows that 68 percent of Utahns think the state should deny recognition of same-sex marriages.

The poll also showed that 27 percent think such marriages should be allowed. Five percent of those polled didn't express an opinion.

In mid-March, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt signed into law a bill, passed the last hour of the Legislature, that would change the way Utah accepts marriages made in other states.

In effect, the new law would deny homosexuals legally married in another U.S. state a legal marriage in Utah.

The LDS Church's position against same-gender marriages is rooted in scripture and statements made by church leaders. On Feb. 14, 1994, the church's First Presidency issued the following statement:

"The principles of the gospel and the sacred responsibilities given us require that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints oppose any efforts to give legal authorization to marriages between persons of the same gender.

"Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God to fulfill the eternal destiny of his children. The union of husband and wife assures perpetuation of the race and provides a divinely ordained setting for the nurturing and teaching of children. This sacred family setting, with father and mother and children firmly committed to each other and to righteous living, offers the best hope for avoiding many of the ills that afflict society.

"We encourage members to appeal to legislators, judges and other government officials to preserve the purposes and sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman and to reject all efforts to give legal authorization or other official approval or support to marriages between persons of the same gender."