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Same-sex attraction can be overcome and any type of union other than marriage between a man and a woman is morally wrong, an LDS apostle told millions of Mormons on Sunday.
"There are those today who not only tolerate but advocate voting to change laws that would legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of God's laws and nature," Boyd K. Packer, president of the church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles, said in a strongly worded sermon about the dangers of pornography and same-sex marriage. "A law against nature would be impossible to enforce. Do you think a vote to repeal the law of gravity would do any good?"
Packer, speaking from his seat because of his frail health, addressed more than 20,000 members gathered in the LDS Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and millions more watching the faith's 180th Semiannual General Conference via satellite.
The senior apostle drew on the church's 1995 declaration, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," to support his view that the power to create offspring "is not an incidental part of the plan of happiness. It is the key the very key."
Some argue that "they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural," he said. "Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father."
Alluding to the Utah-based church's support of laws such as California's Proposition 8 that would define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, Packer said, "Regardless of the opposition, we are determined to stay on course."
"We cannot change; we will not change," the senior apostle declared. "We quickly lose our way when we disobey the laws of God. If we do not protect and foster the family, civilization and our liberties must needs perish."
Laura Compton, who directs Mormons4Marriage, a group of Latter-day Saints who opposed Proposition 8 and support marriage equality in California and elsewhere, was troubled by Packer's sermon.
"So many Mormons have worked hard to increase understanding of what homosexuality is and what it means to be faithful," Compton said in a phone interview from her California home. "Now we have this [anti-gay] message coming from the pulpit in General Conference by the president of the Quorum of the Twelve. It seems like hitting a brick wall. Hopefully, this won't make people stop and say, 'It wasn't worth it.'"
Then, as members repeat and digest Packer's comments in coming months, Compton worries about its impact on the faithful.
"When we are sitting next to the mom of a gay son or daughter whose best friend just came out, or by the bishop who knows 10 people in the ward affected by homosexuality, how will we reach out and help them?" she wonders. "How are we going to make them feel the love of Christ?"
To some, Packer's comments seemed like a throwback to earlier LDS statements about same-sex attraction, similar to those made last summer by LDS general authority Bruce Hafen. Hafen, who became an emeritus member of the First Quorum of Seventy on Saturday, was speaking at a conference sponsored by Evergreen International, a nonprofit group that helps Mormons overcome gay behavior and diminish same-sex attraction, according to its website, evergreeninternational.org.
Hafen promised attendees at the Evergreen conference, "If you are faithful, on resurrection morning and maybe even before then you will rise with normal attractions for the opposite sex."
Whenever the devil, whom Hafen referred to as "the adversary," tries to "convince you that you are hopelessly 'that way,' so that acting out your feelings is inevitable, he is lying," Hafen said. "He is the father of lies."
In the past decade, the church has moved away from 1970s teachings that emphasized psychosocial causes of same-sex attraction, including parenting, toward a "we don't know" approach, not denying the possibility of biological factors. Dallin H. Oaks, an apostle, said in an interview posted on the church's website, lds.org, that LDS leaders believe some attractions can be overcome, and all can be controlled. But the authorities no longer counsel gays to marry those of the opposite sex, as a remedy for their attractions, or support all therapies meant to alter attractions, Oaks said. Nor does the church promise that all same-sex feelings can be changed into heterosexuality with enough church behavior and prayer.
Packer's current comments could lead to more suicides among gay Mormons and to more LDS families rejecting their gay children, warned Duane Jennings, who co-directs the Salt Lake chapter of Affirmation, a support group for gay and lesbian Mormons.
"This is evidence that the church hasn't really changed," Jennings said when contacted Sunday, "and that its positive moves [like supporting Salt Lake City's anti-discrimination statutes] have been just an attempt to improve its image in the wake of Proposition 8."