(by Tad Walch deseretnews.com 1-10-14)
The LDS Church affirmed Friday the constitutionally protected rights of its leaders and members to express religious convictions and called for civility and kindness in the debate on same-sex marriage.
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also detailed instructions relative to same-sex marriage in a letter to congregational leaders in the United States.
"Just as those who promote same-sex marriage are entitled to civility, the same is true for those who oppose it," the leaders stated in the letter, posted on the church's website. "The church insists on its leaders’ and members’ constitutionally protected right to express and advocate religious convictions on marriage, family and morality free from retaliation or retribution. The church is also entitled to maintain its standards of moral conduct and good standing for members."
The letter also emphasized that those who promote same-sex marriage are equally deserving of civility.
"While these matters will continue to evolve, we affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same-sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree."
The letter referred to the most recent court developments regarding same-sex marriage in Utah and stated that "changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established. God expects us to uphold and keep His commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society."
The letter also restated the church's position that its officers neither perform same-sex marriages nor permit use of LDS meetinghouses for them.
"Consistent with our fundamental beliefs, church officers will not employ their ecclesiastical authority to perform marriages between two people of the same sex, and the church does not permit its meetinghouses or other properties to be used for ceremonies, receptions or other activities associated with same-sex marriages. Nevertheless, all visitors are welcome to our chapels and premises so long as they respect our standards of conduct while there."
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve used Bible passages in the letter to reiterate the church's doctrine that marriage between a man and a woman is part of the divine purpose of the world.
"Marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by God and is central to His plan for His children and for the well-being of society," the letter says. "Strong families, guided by a loving mother and father, serve as the fundamental institution for nurturing children, instilling faith, and transmitting to future generations the moral strengths and values that are important to civilization and crucial to eternal salvation."
The letter urges congregational leaders to teach members the church's doctrine in "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," issued in 1995.