October 12th, 2010
10:19 AM ET

Mormon leader's remarks spark outcry on same-sex issues

Editor's Note: Since this post published Tuesday morning, the LDS Church has issued a statement in response to the day's events. Please see some of the comments, and a link to the full statement, at the bottom of this piece.

Twice a year, members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints convene for a general conference during which the LDS Church leadership addresses the Mormon faithful.

Broadcast via satellite to millions of Mormons across the globe, and speaking in front of the more than 20,000 LDS Church members who flock to the enormous conference center in Salt Lake City, Utah, the leaders offer insights on doctrine and guidance to church adherents.

One speech at the 180th semiannual conference, held the first weekend of October, ignited a controversy that spawned protests, set off a petition-signing push and led to allegations of cleaned-up records. It sparked battles in the blogosphere and online onslaughts of accusations, frenzied Facebook campaigns and even unconfirmed claims of a suicide. It prompted Utah’s largest newspaper, The Salt Lake Tribune, to issue a statement to readers this weekend explaining its in-depth coverage and pushed the church-owned newspaper, the Deseret News, to print Sunday a “call for civility.”

The speech in question was that made by LDS Church apostle Boyd K. Packer, 86, the president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles – a governing body in the worldwide church.

In his address on October 3, Packer suggested to Mormons, among other things, that allowing people in same-sex relationships to marry “would legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of God’s laws and nature,” and that any attraction between people of the same sex can – with enough faith – be changed.

Boyd Packer, the president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles

“Some suppose that they were preset 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?”

These statements created a swift backlash in Utah and elsewhere. Calling the comments “heartless,” a local gay activist, and former practicing Mormon, organized through online social networking a silent protest around Temple Square, ground zero for the LDS Church.

About 4,500 people, dressed in black, laid their bodies down Thursday night around the Salt Lake City site, said Eric Ethington, of the blog PRIDEinUtah, who spearheaded the effort. Mixed in, he said, were at least 100 active members of the LDS Church.

“While we respect your right to say what you want, we will hold you accountable,” Ethington said, explaining the intended statement. “There are consequences for hate speech.”

The LDS Church said it, too, recognizes people’s rights to say what they believe, but that the intention behind Packer's message has been misconstrued.

“Those familiar with the church’s doctrine on the importance of marriage and family know it is based on principles of respect and love for all of God’s children,” said Kim Farah, LDS Church spokeswoman, in a written statement. “We have continually emphasized that there is no room in this discussion for hatred or mistreatment of anyone.”

What Packer said wasn’t what shocked Micah Bisson, spokesman for Affirmation, an organization that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender LDS Church members – former and currently active.

“The words he chose to use are no different than those he’s used in the past. The issue is more the timing,” Bisson said. “The timing was absolutely terrible.”

What he was referring to, of course, is the recent rash of publicized suicides by gay teens in the U.S. In the span of three weeks in September, five young gay men killed themselves.

Bisson was reached Friday by phone in San Francisco, California, just hours before a rally and candlelight vigil to increase awareness about LGBT suicides and the need to stop them. He, as well as others including Ethington, said he’d heard a young gay Mormon in Utah killed himself around the time of Packer’s speech. CNN has not been able to confirm this, and the head of the Utah Pride Center said this rumor was news to her.

When the LDS Church first posted the transcript of Packer’s speech, critics went wild – saying the transcript didn’t match his spoken words, that the words were changed to lessen the insult. The phrase about “inborn tendencies” was changed to “inborn temptations” and the rhetorical question about why God would create anyone with such traits was deleted.

On the Monday following LDS Church general conferences, the spokeswoman said, “each speaker has the opportunity to make any edits necessary to clarify differences between what was written and what was delivered or to clarify the speaker’s intent. President Packer has simply clarified his intent.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights agency, issued a media release and announced a press conference in Salt Lake City, scheduled for Tuesday. Immediately following the press conference, the HRC spokesman said the organization will hand-deliver about 150,000 signatures on an open letter to Packer.

That letter reads in part:

You have risked further alienating LGBT youth and potentially contributing to suicides of even more vulnerable young people. You’ve told them that their very identities are “impure and unnatural” and you’ve incited the violence and bullying that often drives them to suicide… I hope you will cease putting young people in real peril and acknowledge the scientific truth: sexual orientation cannot be changed, nor should it be.

Again, Farah of the LDS Church emphasized that the church’s stance on marriage and family “is based on respect and love for all of God’s children.”

Backing Packer, close to 15,000 (and growing) young LDS men and women have gone to the Facebook page WE LOVE YOU - President Boyd K. Packer, promising to send him 100,000 letters of support on Saturday. And though critics have weighed in posting messages on the page, there are notes of gratitude, thanking the one who they believe speaks "the will of God."

They offer testimonies showing their faith in him. One woman thanks him for not mincing "words to make them easier to digest by those who would attempt to call evil good and good evil." Another says, "I don't care what people are saying..I loved this man and his talk...ROCK ON PRES.PACKER....I mean..keep being real...We Love You!!!"

But those assembling Tuesday for the press conference are arriving with a different message.

One speaker will be Valerie Larabee, the executive director of the Utah Pride Center, which directly serves Utah’s LGBT community

“We find ourselves often in the position of picking up the pieces when Mormon leaders put out strong messages about gay and lesbian people being immoral,” Larabee said. “It creates divisions in families and is very unsettling to our youth and their youth. We provide a safe and affirming space for people in crisis. They’re OK the way they are.”

The statements by Packer are “disheartening,” she said, in part because there have been recent inroads in building understanding and respect. In November 2009, the LDS Church backed a Salt Lake City anti-discrimination ordinance, protecting the LGBT community in housing and employment matters.

This support came one year after the church’s much-publicized push to pass California’s Proposition 8, a bill that outlawed in that state same-sex marriages - a matter that’s weaving its way through the courts. In the aftermath of this and the protests that took place outside LDS temples, church officials – not on the highest levels – began meeting with members of the LGBT community.

“Through the telling of our stories and the stories of our community, we’re breaking down the stereotypes,” Larabee said. But the conversations are “only scratching the surface, and unfortunately cultural and doctrinal beliefs at higher levels of the church are very strong… We have a lot of work to do.”

[Updated: 4:30 p.m. ET] Michael Otterson, speaking on behalf of the LDS Church, issued a statement after the Human Rights Campaign delivered the petition signatures in Salt Lake City. His words, as seen in this written statement, spoke of the "bitter sting of persecution and marginalization" that Mormons felt in the church's early history and suggested that this makes members "sensitive to the vulnerable in society."

Though the LDS Church does not agree with HRC in many respects, he said that Mormons "join our voice with others in unreserved condemnation of acts of cruelty, or attempts to belittle or mock any group or individual that is different - whether those differences arise from race, religion, mental challenges, social status, sexual orientation, or for any other reasons."

Otterson also reiterated LDS Church doctrine, saying "any sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, and we define marriage as between a man and a woman. However, that should never, ever be used as justification for unkindness. Jesus Christ, whom we follow, was clear in his condemnation of sexual immorality, but never cruel."

He also pointed out that while same-sex attraction is inevitable, those wishing to follow church doctrine can stay faithful:

The Church recognizes that those of its members who are attracted to others of the same sex experience deep emotional, social, and physical feelings. The Church distinguishes between feelings or inclinations on the one hand, and behavior on the other. It's not a sin to have feelings, only in yielding to temptation.

"Obviously, some will disagree with us," he said. "We hope that any disagreement will be based on a full understanding of our position, and not on distortion or selective interpretation."

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Homosexuality • Mormonism • Utah

soundoff (1,369 Responses)
  1. CanadianBacon

    WHO are you as mormons to say whats immoral and not immoral? Iv lived in Salt Lake City for two years when i went to the U down there. It was such a culture shock. Like seriously who makes up all these foolish rules mormoms believe? No Caffeine? No wine? even thou JESUS himself had wine. Where is this extra planet that you guys have saved up for when you die? Dont think NASA has found it yet. And for you a leader of the the church to go an say that gay people with faith can be changed straight? Im not gay myself but i find it alarming that your a judgemental and racial group. Sick of the mormons and how u guys lived a cult life and expect the rest of the world to follow it. If your mormon then why dont you worry about your self and how u can improve yourself instead of picking out all the faults of others like you usually do. CULT DAYS ARE OVER

    October 12, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
    • Jeremy

      lol – ummm, where to start. This whole article is here because of the controversy sparked by a General Conference address. General Conference is a semi-annual conference for church members (So I think we were keeping to ourselves and people like you decided to pick it up and roll with it so you could call us intolerant – which is by the way dead wrong. We are tolerant of sin, but can not be accepting of it (see the difference??) ) . Also, if you lived among Mormons then you know very well that every Mormon owned business you went to likely sold Coffee, Beer, Caffeinated beverages and so on. You would also know that Mormons live everywhere, not just Utah. Don't hate us just because we stand for something.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
    • Jeremy

      OH yeah, I forgot to address the planet thing. Where do you think God dwells? On a cloud??? I'm pretty sure the FAA and Meteorologists are colluding to keep God's particular cloud a secret. And, for your edification, NASA (as of about 10 years ago) has begun findings planets on other stars on a fairly regular basis (every few months or so). They are even starting to find some that are in "habitable zones" that are not too hot or cold relative to their distance from their star and are likely capable of supporting life. One of the more recent discoveries is only 170 million miles away. A Mormon could have told you there are innumerable planets like this 170 years ago.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  2. ben16

    Wow...the quorum of 12 apostles. You know, the guys at the top who know more about what God thinks than the rest of the flock. Who, in turn, are more "chosen" than the other religions. You have to be pretty egotistical to say your a "Christian", but instead of going to Heaven, your Mormon reward is your own planet with a wife ever producing babies to populate it. All 12 of the quorum are all ready on their own planet – at least in their own minds. Certainly that devoted Mormon Glenn Beck is. And we all know that Mitt Romney thinks he's way better than the common folk.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
  3. Mel

    yes because insults will really make me think highly of you. Again, time to grow up sweetheart.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  4. Smartalex

    How is being gay less moral than having thirty wives stupid?

    October 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  5. Lee from California

    I am a gay man who also happens to have been born and raised as a Mormon. I was given the option to live a life of celibacy that would be approved by God or choose a life of sin. I could not be alone so I chose the latter. It serves no purpose to bash the church. They are who they are and they have have done many great and compassionate things but they have hurt many gay people. They need to understand the pain and torment faced by gay LDS and show more compassion to their own and gay LDS need to lose their bitterness because that is the only way that they can grow and be happy.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  6. Reality

    Can gay be "Fixed" or is there anything to "Fix"? As a Mormon I don't think that is the question here. If you think that this man's words don't apply to you than you probably aren't Mormon and that's okay. This is America where Freedom of Religion is just as important as Freedom of Speech. As far as I'm concerned this isn't a Hate Speech, this is our religous doctrine. You are free to agree or disagree as you like, that's what makes this country great. If it's not for you then don't cry, just let it go.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  7. Blue

    Religion takes yet another step towards irrelevance.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  8. FloridaGal

    Does it REALLY matter when Packer made the remarks he did? NO! The truth will always reign and be TRUTH...Gay behavior is wrong, regardless of legalization! It's his right to voice this, whether it's okay with you or not...It's high time that someone has finally voiced the truth and not cared about the perception of the world. Someone has to be the voice of TRUTH and a beacon of the reality of righteousness.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  9. Tim

    Mormonism... yet another cult not unlike catholisism, judiasm, and yes the filthy Muslims too Religion the greatest scam in the history of mankind

    October 12, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  10. Paul

    Hopefully the Church will place a shredder outside the front doors of the Church Office Building so that this group will have a place to deliver their complaint.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  11. Gary

    A belief is the way we deal with uncertainties of the world until we know. Or at least until we believe we know :-). (see the 'Laws' of Physics)

    Truth is different. It can stem from belief. It can stem from knowledge. It can stem from good or evil, from love or hate, from reality or fantasy. And it can change from one moment to the next.

    There is truth in every religion – that there is something greater than ourselves out there. Each religion tries to name that something and then, by invoking that name, make itself more holy or important or powerful than any other religious group. In doing so it turns to what is false in every religion, that somehow a set of beliefs or other dogma is right and every other set is wrong.

    We have so few 'facts' about existence and so many 'beliefs'. The wise thing would be to be tolerant of each other and our ideas until we know more and believe less.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  12. Brad

    Good for the Mormon Church to stand up for what it believes in. Why is a tiny percentage of a society dictating their abhorrent lifestyle on us and then when they are challenged they scream civil rights, blah blah blah blah?

    If God had intended for man to be a woman, he would given him the proper plumbing. Its an abhorrent disgusting perverted lifestyle. Iran handles their gays perfectly.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
    • cmxsmitty

      The Mormon church believes in magic underwear. They are hardly the voice of reason and neither is the People's Islamic Republic of Iran. Why don't you go there and see how far you get.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
    • Jeremy


      For your enlightenment so you don't sound so ignorant in the future... Mormons do not believe in "Magic Underwear." They wear a garment (with much the look of regular sports briefs and white tee undershirt) that is symbolic of convenants they have made. We say it can serve as a protection from the world in so much that it is a constant reminder (as it is on our body) of the covenant or promise that we have made to God. Obeying these covenants keep us out of spiritual pitfalls. Unfortunately, we can't use it to fly, or lift extreme amounts of weight, or even run faster than a speeding bullet.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  13. Practicing Athiest

    “Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”

    Really? That's your defense? So please explain to me why "our Heavenly Father" would allow natural occurances such as cancer, plagues, famine, drought, etc. happen to anyone?

    Certainly you have to believe that a slow, painful, meaningless death is worse than living out your days happily with someone you love.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  14. nathalie

    It doesn't matter what the leader of this church says anyway, because Mormonism is just a stupid idiotic cult. A man who believes in a prophet who had visions in a hat is not someone any person should listen to about anything.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  15. Tim

    Mormonism... yet another cult not unlike catholisism, judiasm, and yes the filthy Muslims to

    October 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  16. David

    Too bad Barbara Bush was not a lesbian!!

    October 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  17. From an Active LDS member

    Boyd K. Packer (the speaker referenced by this article) has given a wide range of controversial talks in the past. In his talk "For Young Men Only" , he develops an elaborate metaphor between the male reproductive organs, and a 'factory'. He suggests that young men NEVER 'self-pleasure' or their 'little factory' might begin over-producing its product. Google
    "Packer For Young Men Only". You will open up a universe of bizarre Mormon thought that even Pandora would blush over. As an LDS member, I always believed that Packer was a judgemental, self-righteous nut. He is just the same nut today (2010) that he was when I was a good little mormon boy in the 1970s. Nothing has changed. The only reason this is making the news is the LDS Church's covert financial support for California's Prop 8 campaign, and the LDS public relation team's general success at convincing the public that it is a mainstream faith. I've been Mormon for 40 years and have never heard of another religious belief system that required me to vow to have my throat slit, my bowels ripped open, etc. etc. for divulging the secret oaths and handshakes from the LDS Temple service (endowment pre-1990 changes). Those of you that are up in arms over this little news article, relax a bit. This is only the tip of a very bizarre iceberg, obscured by a very expensive and elaborate PR campaign aimed at creating a 'mainstream' image for the Church.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
    • TheChurchofJesusChristofLatterDaySaints - Current Member

      Active LDS Member? Are you really active? Active implies actively practicing the belief structure. Last time I checked, 'Active LDS' members don't share imformation about what transpires within the Temple Endowment session. I'm sure "active" Catholics don't call the Archbishops "nuts" as you so eloquently referred to Elder Packer. Making your comments is acceptable, but leading readers to believe you are "active" is hogwash!

      October 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • Sarah

      @active: thank you for being sane... for a Mormon

      October 12, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  18. Jeremy

    @ Javinka. Get your facts straight. LDS doctrine is that without the atonement, no one would get to heaven. But you can't just live life knowing that will get you there. You have to get up off your keester and do good for your fellow man. Like Jesus would have you do. Faith + Works. Not just Faith, and not just Works. That is the LDS belief. Thanks.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
    • Javinka

      @ Jeremy- that is the problem: "that is the LDS belief." If you were a TRUE Christian, you would know the poison of your beliefs, and your false prophets

      October 12, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Javinka, I know the position of "Mainstream Christianity." I was pointing out that you did not know the position that our religion takes. You simply said we think Acts will get us to heaven. We don't believe for a second that it would be possible without Jesus having died for our sins. You go ahead and believe what a bunch of people in 400 A.D decided was Christianity and I'll take my position from what the bible actually says.
      From James we read:
      20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that afaith without works is dead?
      21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
      22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

      October 12, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Actually, just read the Epistle of James chapter 2 in its entirety. It's almost like they are words to live by.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  19. Gamato

    LDS members are free to believe whatever they want – based on their faith, culture, teachings – that's their business and they have a right to express it. They do not speak for everyone however, nor do they have a right to deny civil rights to any other group of people who think differently then they do. They may believe they have the answer to life, but that is their belief and not one shared by everyone. Being gay is not a choice, it is a birthright. If you believe in God, then God made gay people – the smoke screen about it being a choice is how the holier than thou crowd rationalizes its existence.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  20. Reality

    Can we "Fix" gay or is there anything to "Fix"? I for one don't care. As a Mormon I consider myself to be quite liberal on most issues. The real question here is if you don't feel that this man's words apply to you, why do you care? Religion in America, as well as in all countries that house Mormons, is one's choose. If you don't agree with it, then it's not for you and thus leave it for someone else. If one man's speech hurts your feelings, maybe you have other problems.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • cmxsmitty

      I care because your church (of which this man is a high ranking official) did fundraising to support an unjust legislation that asked people to vote on my 14th amendment rights and then claims tax exempt status. His "belief" directly affected my life.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.