In the early 2000s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' stance on same-sex marriage aligned with the opinions of most Americans: Gays and lesbians shouldn't be allowed to marry.
Since then, popular opposition to same-sex marriage has collapsed across much of the country, with 17 states and the District of Columbia allowing the practice.
Shifting public opinion may explain the message that Neil L. Andersen, an elder in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles - the second-highest governing body in the Mormon Church - had for listeners at the semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
“While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not," Andersen said in his remarks, which warned of "whirlwinds" that would test Mormons' adherence to the church's socially conservative theology.
The church has not been immune to doctrinal changes throughout its history. It halted plural marriage among its members in 1890 so Utah could become a state, and announced in 1978 that black men could become ordained priests. (Women are still not allowed into the priesthood, which has caused division among church members.)
With the church now seeing public opinion diverge with its position on same-sex marriage, Andersen urged Mormons - especially the youth - to hold firm to the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.
God's law, Andersen said, is clear. Then he quoted from a church statement after a federal judge struck down Utah's same-sex marriage ban in December: "Sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife."
He added that church members who "struggle with same-sex attraction" were of "special concern," and expressed support for those conflicted about their sexuality. He urged kindness in all cases.
The conservative bastion of Utah is one of several states fighting recent court rulings that have struck down bans on same-sex marriage. Oral arguments before the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals are set for Thursday. A week later, the 10th Circuit will hear arguments in a similar Oklahoma case.
One of the most prominent Mormons in the public sphere, Tyler Glenn, the lead singer for the pop group Neon Trees, recently came out as openly gay.
"It is a whirlwind of enormous velocity," Andersen said of same-sex attraction. "I want to express my love and admiration for those who courageously confront this trial of faith and stay true to the commandments of God. But everyone independent of his and her decisions and belief deserve our kindness and consideration.”
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