On the second and final day of the LDS Church's 183rd Semiannual General Conference, apostle Dallin H. Oaks bemoaned America's dropping birthrates, later marriages and rising incidence of cohabitation as evidence of "political and social pressures for legal and policy changes to establish behaviors contrary to God's decrees about sexual morality and the eternal nature and purposes of marriage and child-bearing."
These pressures "have already permitted same-gender marriages in various states and nations," Oaks told 20,000 Mormons gathered in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and millions more watching worldwide via telecasts and the Internet. "Other pressures would confuse gender or homogenize those differences between men and women that are essential to accomplish God's great plan of happiness."
An LDS eternal perspective does not allow Mormons "to condone such behaviors or to find justification in the laws that permit them," said the apostle, a former Utah Supreme Court justice. "And, unlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has declared to be unchangeable."
The LDS stance against same-sex marriage might be misunderstood, elicit "accusations of bigotry" or trigger "invasions of our free exercise of religion," he said. But "we should remember our first priority to serve God and, like our pioneer predecessors, push our personal handcarts forward with the same fortitude they exhibited."
Apostle Russell M. Nelson, a former surgeon, echoed Oaks' sentiments about same-sex marriage.
"Marriage between a man and a woman is fundamental to the Lord's doctrine and crucial to God's eternal plan," Nelson said. "Marriage between a man and a woman is God's pattern for a fullness of life on Earth and in heaven. God's marriage pattern cannot be abused, misunderstood or misconstrued."
Two fellow apostles, Neil L. Andersen and Quentin L. Cook, discussed the role of women, possibly prompted by a movement known as Ordain Women, which has been asking why women are barred from the LDS priesthood.
Saturday night about 130 women and some men arrived on Temple Square and asked for admittance to the conference's priesthood session, which is open only to males age 12 and above. The women were rejected.
"We sometimes overly associate the power of the priesthood with men in the church," Andersen said. "The priesthood is the power and authority of God given for the salvation and blessing of all men, women and children."
A man, he said, "may open the drapes so the warm sunlight comes into the room, but the man does not own the sun or the light or the warmth it brings. The blessings of the priesthood are infinitely greater than the one who is asked to administer the gift."
Andersen noted that some may "sincerely" wonder why, if the power and blessings are available to all, the priesthood must be administered by men.
"Gender is an essential characteristic of both our mortal and eternal identity and purpose," the apostle said. "Sacred responsibilities are given to each gender."
Maybe one day God's reasoning on this will be more clear, Andersen said. "With time and eternal perspective we will see things 'as they really are' and more completely understand his perfect love."
Until then, he said, "sincerely asking for and listening to the thoughts and concerns voiced by women is vital in life, in marriage and in building the kingdom of God."
Cook said he was "unequivocally ... thrilled with the educational and other opportunities that are available to women," but he also decried what he called "philosophies that criticize or diminish respect for women who choose to make the sacrifices necessary to be mothers, teachers, nurturers or friends to children."
"If we allow our culture to reduce the special relationship that children have with mothers and grandmothers and others who nurture them," Cook said, "we will come to regret it."
Adrian Q. Ochoa, of the Quorum of the Seventy, cautioned his listeners "not to view filthy images or give your attention to the false accusers of Christ and the Prophet Joseph Smith."
Both actions, Ochoa said, will results in "the loss of the Holy Ghost and his protecting, sustaining power. Vice and unhappiness follow."
On Sunday morning, Church President Thomas S. Monson spoke with tenderness about the death of his wife, Frances, in May.
"Her loss has been profound," said the 86-year-old leader, considered a "prophet, seer and revelator" of the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Tomorrow would have been our 65th wedding anniversary. She was the love of my life, my trusted confidante and my closest friend.
"To say that I miss her," he said, his voice breaking with emotion, "does not begin to convey the depth of my feelings."
This conference also marks the 50th anniversary of Monson's appointment to the Utah-based faith's Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
Monson went on to discuss facing the challenges of mortality with strength and grace.
"The difficulties which come to us present us with the real test of our ability to endure. A fundamental question remains to be answered by each of us: Shall I falter, or shall I finish?" Monson said. "Whenever we are inclined to feel burdened down with the blows of life, let us remember that others have passed the same way, have endured and then have overcome."
Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the governing LDS First Presidency, said families are the testing ground for human character.
"Life in families will test us. That is one of God's purposes in giving us the gift of mortality to strengthen us by passing through tests," Eyring said. "That will be especially true in family life where we will find great joy and great sorrow and challenges which may at times seem beyond our power to endure them."
Bonnie L. Oscarson, president of the LDS Church's Young Women's organization, addressed the nature of conversion.
"True conversion is more than merely having a knowledge of gospel principles and implies even more than just having a testimony of those principles," said Oscarson, the only female speaker in the Sunday morning session. "It is possible to have a testimony of the gospel without living it. Being truly converted means we are acting upon what we believe and allowing it to create 'a mighty change in us, or in our hearts.' "