SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church reiterated its position on marriage and sexual activity outside of marriage as well as its love and concern for members with same-sex attractions as it responded Tuesday afternoon to a petition delivered to the church by national gay-rights leaders.
"Their struggle is our struggle," said Michael Otterson, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Those in the church who are attracted to someone of the same sex but stay faithful to the church's teachings can be happy during this life and perform meaningful service in the church.
"They can enjoy full fellowship with other church members including attending and serving in temples, and ultimately receive all the blessings afforded to those who live the commandments of God."
The LDS Church recognizes that those of its members who are attracted to the same sex experience deep emotional, social and physical feelings, Otterson said.
"The church distinguishes between feelings or inclinations on one hand, and behavior on the other," he said. "It's not a sin to have feelings, only in yielding to temptation."
Leaders of the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization that advocates for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals, joined with local gay-rights proponents to deliver a petition to the church Tuesday with 150,000 online signatures criticizing statements from the Oct. 3 general conference address by President Boyd K. Packer, president of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
In a news conference held Tuesday morning before delivering the petition to the Church Office Building, national and local gay-rights leaders said the talk included what they called damaging inaccuracies and asked for apologies and corrections.
"We and our families suffer greatly and our lives are put at risk," said HRC president Joe Solmonese, saying same-sex attraction is natural, is not wrong and cannot be "repaired."
"This isn't a question of faith," he added. "It is a question of putting lives on the line."
With the signatures compiled on some 800 pages, the petition drew the HRC's largest-ever response to such an email campaign.
In the church's statement later Tuesday afternoon, Otterson reiterated doctrinal positions — the church considers any sexual activity outside of marriage as wrong, and it defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
"However, that should never, ever be used as justification for unkindness," he added. "Jesus Christ, whom we follow, was clear in his condemnation of sexual immorality, but never cruel. His interest was always to lift the individual, never to tear down.
"Further, while the church is strongly on the record as opposing same-sex marriage, it has openly supported other rights for gays and lesbians such as protections in housing or employment."
LDS leaders and members can help lift, support and encourage fellow members wishing to follow the church's doctrine, Otterson said.
Otterson said the church shares common ground with gay-rights groups, saying that both have felt "the bitter sting of persecution and marginalization" over the years, adding that LDS members "should be especially sensitive to the vulnerable in society and be willing to speak out against bullying or intimidation whenever it occurs, including unkindness toward those who are attracted to others of the same sex."
The church understands others will disagree, but hopes disagreement will include an understanding of its position "and not on distortion or selective interpretation," Otterson said.