Top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently released a six-page statement on why the faith is opposed to same-sex marriage.
The document, titled "The Divine Institution of Marriage," has garnered both praise and derision from Affirmation, a group of gay Latter-day Saints.
The document was posted on the church's Web site, www.lds.org, in the "newsroom" section last month, and leaders of Affirmation issued a press release late last week in response.
Latter-day Saints in Utah and around the country know the church is one of several faith organizations that are actively supporting Proposition 8, which would overturn the California Supreme Court's legalization of gay marriage earlier this year. If approved by voters in November, the proposition would amend that state's constitution to read, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."
The new LDS Church document follows the release of a letter in June from the faith's First Presidency to church members in California, asking for their donations of time and money in support of Proposition 8. The new document is an expansion of past statements made by the church in response to questions about its reasons for opposing same-sex marriage. The "introduction" section of the document may surprise some church members with its stance on some legal questions that have surfaced in Utah and elsewhere regarding domestic partnership rights.
"The church does not object to rights (already established in California) regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion free from government interference," the introduction says.
Those California rights apply not only to same-sex couples, but also to other kinds of domestic partnerships.
In October 2004, the First Presidency's office issued a statement saying the church "favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship."
That statement came two weeks before Utah voters were to decide whether to amend the Beehive State's constitution, not only to define marriage as the "legal union between a man and a woman," but also to prevent any other domestic union from being "recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect."
The Affirmation press release lauded the new statement, and another that said the church's "opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility towards homosexual men and women," reminding church members of their "obligations of love, kindness and humanity toward all people."
Those characterizations are "by far the most affirming statement of both human and civil rights of gay people" since the church issued a pamphlet last year called "God Loveth His Children," "which acknowledged that being gay is not a disease or a sin," said David Melson, media spokesman for Affirmation.
"We applaud the courage of the leaders who chose to make this statement, which is contrary to many of the church's words and actions of the past, and we see this as a positive step," he said.
"We would have been more pleased if it had not been issued during a time of contradictory action by the church to repeal the civil rights of gay U.S. citizens and to seek to break apart families."
Affirmation took issue with a statement in the church's document that says "strong families, headed by a father and mother, are the anchor of civilized society." The group's press release said that statement "marginalizes families headed by widows, single parents, adoptive parents, grandparents or foster parents and ignores the church's own history honoring polygamous marriage."
The church has been criticized by those who say its opposition to same-sex marriage is tantamount to intolerance and that speaking against legal sanction of such unions is "hate speech."
The church document addresses those characterizations, saying "tolerance as a gospel principle means love and forgiveness of one another, not 'tolerating' transgression." It notes that "in today's secular world," tolerance has "come to mean condone — acceptance of wrongful behavior as the price of friendship. Jesus taught that we love and care for one another without condoning transgression ... tolerance does not require abandoning one's standard or one's opinions on political or public policy choices," it said.
It goes on to say that "speaking out against practices with which the church disagrees on moral grounds — including same-sex marriage — does not constitute abuse or the frequently misused term 'hate speech.' We can express genuine love and friendship for the homosexual family member or friend without accepting the practice of homosexuality or any re-definition of marriage."
The document said the church's opposition to same-sex marriage "neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility towards homosexual men and women. Protecting marriage between a man and a woman does not affect church members' obligations of love, kindness and humanity toward all people.
"As church members decide their own appropriate level of involvement in protecting marriage between a man and a woman, they should approach this issue with respect for others, understanding, honesty, and civility."
The bulk of the church's document outlines both the faith's moral reasoning and its concern for the potential legal consequences for families and children if same-sex marriage remains or becomes legal. The Affirmation release said the church's statement uses "half-truths and fear to paint a picture of gay marriage leading to an end of religious freedom and of societal standards."
Church officials declined further comment on the document.
Melson told the Deseret News since the body of the church's document had to do with Proposition 8, and "the introduction directly addressed gay issues in a manner much more straightforward and positive than the church has done before, it's hard not to think our actions didn't have some influence on that.
"The church has recognized this is an issue they need to deal with. I think they are starting to prepare the way for that day."