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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued its strongest statement yet on the same-sex marriage situation in Utah, reminding its lay leaders across the country that they may not perform or permit such marriages to take place on church property.
It also said church meetinghouses and other properties may not be used for receptions and celebrations for same-sex couples.
The church's First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles asked congregational leaders to share the message in the two-page statement with members in "appropriate settings," which largely means church meetings and informal gatherings.
The church's lay bishops are often asked to perform marriages for members in such settings as homes, reception centers and other venues, but the statement makes clear they are not allowed to act in that capacity at ceremonies for same-sex couples.
It also notes that the church is "entitled to maintain its standards of moral conduct and good standing for members."
The LDS Church had remained on the sidelines as a lawsuit challenging Utah's ban on same-sex marriage churned its way through federal district court. That changed after U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled on Dec. 20 that the state's ban was unconstitutional, when it issued a single paragraph statement expressing support for the state's position.
The Diocese of Salt Lake City took a similar position, releasing a statement that said the Roman Catholic faith supports a "traditional, well established and divinely revealed reality of the marriage covenant between one man and one woman, a permanent and exclusive bond meant to provide a nurturing environment for children and the fundamental block to a just society."
The LDS Church's new statement mostly reiterates the church's long-standing position on same-sex marriage. It quotes a passage from Genesis about marriage and reproduction, which the church said illustrates that marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by God and "central to his plan for his children and for the well-being of society."
It noted that legal proceedings and legislative action in some states and countries have given civil recognition to same-sex marriage.
But, the church said, "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."
It called for civility on both sides of the debate while the lawsuit proceeds through courts.
"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," it said. "Just as those who promote same-sex marriage are entitled to civility, the same is true for those who oppose it. 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 LDS Church and its members have taken a high-profile position on some same-sex marriage battles, such as Proposition 8 in California. The church joined with seven other religious organizations in filing an amicus brief in that case when it was before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In September, church leaders in Hawaii urged members to study the church's "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" and then share their views with lawmakers as they prepared to vote on whether to make same-sex marriage legal. LDS Church leaders also asked members to share support for a "strong" exemption for religious organizations and businesses who do not want to support gay marriage.
Utah lawmakers may propose bills this legislative session that would provide those protections.
In its statement released Friday, the LDS Church also suggested members "pray that people everywhere will have their hearts softened to the truths of the gospel, and that wisdom will be granted to those who are called upon to decide issues critical to society's future."