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. Mike

    This was not hate speech. Those who brand it as such are sensationalizing opinions to generate more publicity.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
  2. FloridaGal

    Mark and Joe S. – How sad if you really believe this! Personally, I think that maybe you two should BE a Christian. Find out what HE was and emulate it.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
  3. Robert

    "What a piece of work is man." Though instead of the noble creatures that Shakespeare is talking about, I'm referring to the general mess I see when reading this article and some of the comments therein. This is only an example of what organized religion can do...conquer and divide human beings. Anyone who wants to learn more about God should do so by reading about near-death experiences. It is only in death that we truly understand.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
    • Peace2All


      I 'have had a Near Death Experience (NDE)..... What would you like to know....?

      October 13, 2010 at 2:33 am |
  4. Roscoe

    Not only is your malevolent sky fairy imaginary, if it were real it would be a goofy impotent weakling.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  5. Gay Father

    I'm a gay father of two teen-age girls (twins, in fact). The stupidy laced within your comments that gays can't reproduce is unfortunate. I'm gay and I've fathered two children through natural conception with a woman. To the moron who suggested extinction of gays by putting us all on an island sounds much like the 3rd Reich rounding up Jews into the Warsaw Ghetto. We are human, we will populate said island because that's what humans do. And by doing so, won't make me any more straight as you might fantasize about. Lesbians can also bear children through natural means. Being gay has nothing...ziltch..to do with our reproductive systems. And if that's what you think then please, do us all a favor, and stop reproducing.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
  6. Diane Colorado

    What about "Judge not that ye be not judged"? Or "Love one another"? Or Live and Let Live? Or tolerance? Or acceptance? What difference does it make it people are gay? How will gays getting married "destroy the family"? Because the Mormons says so? Members of the Mormon Church need to think for themselves and not blindly and rotely follow what their leaders say. IMO, it's simply not Christian to believe what they are saying. Truly, WWJD? What would Jesus do? He loves gays just as loves everyone else. The Mormons need to follow His example.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
  7. Sydney Australia

    To all of you who support the gay, lesbian, trans-gendered lifestyle I ask: why do you not support polygamy? If 2 men or 2 women can claim the right to legally live together and demand the right of marriage; why should not polygamists? Why should not a man and 2 women or a woman and three men who are adults and entered into the union freely not be able to claim the same rights as the LGBT's? ? ?

    Who is standing up for the Polygamists?

    October 12, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  8. ralph

    What he said is no different than statements from fundamentalist Protestant and Catholic leaders and members. And some politicians. Don't single out the Mormons for attack.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  9. Dominic

    This man is a hatemonger and a dirtbag. His views of GLBT people cause violence, bullying, and suicide. What an ignorant, ignorant man.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
    • Sarah

      I invite you to read the actual text of his talk (or watch the original): http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1298-23,00.html

      October 12, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  10. Roscoe

    The bible is nothing but fiction. No matter how much crying, sniveling, snotslinging, praying/begging, legislating and grandstanding you do it will always be nothing but fiction.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
  11. marvin226

    Please spare us your bible, with its hateful, ignorant, stone-aged ideas.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
  12. Fuzzynormal

    @ Jeff:

    "These mormons have the right to profess their thoughts and beliefs. Unfortunately, the same liberals who claim to support free speech are the exact individuals who attack it when someone speaks out on an issue with which they disagree."

    Apparently the whole concept of free speech, which allows for expressing disagreement, is lost on you?

    It's not that hard.

    If you want to say something that doesn't advocate bodily harm to another person, you can. That includes calling people morons who you think are morons. F-R-E-E S-P-E-E-C-H, genius. (Watch how it's done:)

    So, seriously, with that analysis, are you re*arded?

    October 12, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
  13. starr

    This is a waste to discuss this subject. This is one of those things where a lot of people are fully persuaded in what they believe, which is one of those inalienable rights that we have. I find it intriguing that almost every country in the world in some form found being gay unnatural some not even believing in the same God(s). So how does a subject like this transcend nations? I do believe there is truth in it. I believe in the word of God wholeheartedly! I can't help it if some don't agree-but it is not hate, just fact according to what I believe. I don't renegade against other religions, faiths or people just because I don't agree. People will always find fault in man/woman.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
  14. Grassly

    The bible is fiction, nothing more! No matter how much protesting, crying, legislation, grandstanding and spin doctoring you do it remains FICTION.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
  15. Fuzzynormal

    "Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”

    Why would the heavenly father ask an insane dude to stick his head in a bag to have gold speak to him and start a cult?

    October 12, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
    • erasmus

      Because he is a sadistic and malicious SOB...

      October 16, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
  16. onelinerix

    boyd packer needs to come out of the closet

    October 12, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
    • Judgwell

      You'll regret that one at some point.

      October 12, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
  17. JennyT

    Members of cults preaching hatred in the name of God are laughable. Hell is listening to their moronic drivel. Catholic priests? People who believe in magical underwear? The intergalatic Walrus? You're a joke, and if anyone's going to hell it's you.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  18. tommy

    At last a man who stands up for his beliefs rather than try to be the usual politician and brown nose everybody and everything. And yes, 6exual acts are choice. Some renounce 6ex completely showing that control is always possible.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:45 pm |


    October 12, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  20. Albert

    With the history Mormons have, they should probably be the last group of people giving marriage advice.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
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About this blog

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.