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In 1995, the LDS Church issued a strongly worded theological defense of the importance of marriage between a man and a woman and spelled out traditional roles for parents. Today, those ideas are under even greater attack, a top Mormon leader said Saturday.

"When President Gordon B. Hinckley first read 'The Family: A Proclamation to the World' 20 years ago this year, we were grateful for and valued the clarity, simplicity and truth of this revelatory document," LDS Young Women General President Bonnie L. Oscarson told thousands of female Mormons gathered in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, with millions more watching via satellite and computers around the globe. "Little did we realize then how very desperately we would need these basic declarations in today's world as the criteria by which we could judge each new wind of worldly dogma coming at us from the media, the Internet, scholars, TV and films and even legislators."

She was speaking at the annual women's meeting for female Mormons age 8 and up, this year designated for the first time as the official opening session of the General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Oscarson laid out three principles in the proclamation that need "steadfast defenders" — that marriage should be between a man and a woman, that parenthood is a divine calling and that LDS homes should be "places of refuge, holiness and safety."

She issued a challenge to LDS women to defend these principles whenever they could.

"We need to continue to model righteous marriages, seek for that blessing in our lives, and have faith if it is slow in coming," Oscarson said. "Let us be defenders of marriage as the Lord has ordained it while continuing to show love and compassion for those with differing views."

She urged Mormons to make their homes places which are "second only to the temple in holiness."

"We need to take a term which is sometimes spoken of with derision and elevate it," Oscarson said. "It is the term 'homemaker.' All of us, women, men, youth and children, single or married, can work at being homemakers."

Carole M. Stephens, first counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society for adult women, praised the proclamation on the family for providing "pure doctrine."

"We learn not only that the family is of God but also that we are each part of God's family," Stephens said.

But "earthly families all look different," she noted. "And while we do the best we can to create strong traditional families, membership in the family of God is not contingent upon any kind of status — marital status, parental status, financial status, social status or even the kind of status we post on social media."

The Relief Society leader acknowledged that she has not experienced "divorce, the pain and insecurity that come from abandonment, or the responsibility associated with being a single mother. I haven't experienced the death of a child, infertility or same-gender attraction. I haven't had to endure abuse or chronic illness or addiction."

But Stephens said she has experienced all those conditions "through the lens of daughter, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend."

Part of the purpose of mortal life for "daughters of God," she said, is "to unite in empathy and compassion as we support other members of the family of God in their struggles."

Cheryl A. Esplin, second counselor in the general presidency of the Primary for LDS children, also stressed the importance of family.

"Strong eternal families and Spirit-filled homes do not just happen," Esplin said. "They take great effort, they take time, and they take each member of the family doing his or her part. Every home is different, but every home where even one individual seeks for truth can make a difference."

In these tough times, she said, Mormons "will have to do our best to hold on to whatever light and truth we currently have, especially in difficult circumstances."

Answers to our prayers "may not come dramatically, but we must find quiet moments to seek greater light and truth," Esplin said. "And when we receive it, it is our responsibility to live it, to share it and to defend it."

Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, was the 90-minute meeting's concluding speaker.

Eyring, who was joined at the session by LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson and second counselor Dieter F. Uchtdorf, spoke of Jesus Christ's "infinite compassion" and how Mormons can express that love as well.

"We lighten the loads of others best by helping the Lord strengthen them," he said. "That is why the Lord included in our charge to comfort others the command to be his witnesses at all times and in all places."

Eyring urged his female listeners never to cease "giving comfort to those who need comfort."

The 185th Annual General Conference continues next Saturday and Sunday.

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