Tom Smart, Deseret News
Elder L. Whitney Clayton, of the Presidency of the First Quorum of Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responses to media questions about the Church's involvement in California's Proposition 8, in Salt Lake City, Utah on Nov. 5, 2008.

Shortly after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling that Californias Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a response.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regrets todays decision, said LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy. California voters have twice determined in a general election that marriage should be recognized as only between a man and a woman. We have always had that view. Courts should not alter that definition, especially when the people of California have spoken so clearly on the subject.

Millions of voters in California sent a message that traditional marriage is crucial to society, the LDS statement continued. They expressed their desire, through the democratic process, to keep traditional marriage as the bedrock of society, as it has been for generations.

Later Tuesday afternoon, Bishop Gerald E. Wilkerson, president of the California Catholic Conference and head of the San Fernando Pastoral Region of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, issued the following statement:

We are disappointed by the ruling today by a panel of the Ninth Circuit that would invalidate the action taken by the people of California affirming that marriage unites a woman and a man and any children from their union. However, given the issues involved and the nature of the legal process, its always been clear that this case would very likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Marriage between one man and one woman has been and always will be the most basic building block of the family and of our society.

In the end, through sound legal reasoning, we believe the court will see this as well and uphold the will of the voters as expressed in Proposition 8. We continue to pray for that positive outcome.

The LDS and Catholic churches are not alone among people of faith expressing their concern about the federal court ruling. Rev. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville said the court has ruled straightforwardly that the motivation for defending traditional marriage is animus against homosexual persons. I think thats ridiculous on its face. The defense of marriage is valued by all kinds of people. To say (otherwise) is insulting to people of faith and anyone who would support a traditional concept of marriage, humanitys most central institution.

But other religious leaders expressed the opposite feeling.

"Opponents of same-sex marriage have been unable to muster any arguments other than it offends their theology," said the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for a Separation of Church and State. "We have a secular government, and dogma should not and cannot be transformed into law."

Brian Raum, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal aid group that helped to defend Proposition 8, expressed his concern that the ruling would "undercut the democratic process by taking the power to preserve marriage out of the hands of the people.

"We are not surprised that this Hollywood-orchestrated attack on marriage — tried in San Francisco — turned out this way," Raum said. "But we are confident that the expressed will of the American people in favor of marriage will be upheld at the Supreme Court."

The notion of exactly what is the "expressed will of the American people," however, is a matter of some debate. According to a recent study on religion and attitudes toward same-sex marriage by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Americans are split almost down the middle on the issue, with 46 percent in favor of allowing homosexuals to marry, 44 percent in opposition and 10 percent undecided. The numbers represent a shift from August/September 2010, when only 42 percent favored allowing gay marriage, with 48 percent opposed and 10 percent undecided.

Among survey respondents who expressed a Christian religious preference, there was a significant division of opinion, with Protestants generally opposed to gay marriage (58 percent, including 74 percent opposition among white evangelical Christians and 62 percent among black Protestants) and Catholics generally in favor of allowing it (52 percent).

Those who declared themselves as religiously unaffiliated were overwhelmingly (72 percent) in favor of allowing gay marriage.

As far as Latter-day Saints are concerned, there are no survey numbers available specifically on the subject of gay marriage. But in a recent Pew Research Center survey of Mormons in America, self-identified Latter-day Saints were asked if homosexuality should be accepted or discouraged by society. Sixty-five percent of survey respondents said homosexuality should be discouraged by society, with 26 percent saying that it should be accepted.

If such numbers make anything clear, it is that there are strong feelings on both sides of this controversial issue.

"We recognize that (today's) decision represents a continuation of what has been a vigorous public debate over the rights of the people to define and protect the fundamental institution of marriage," the LDS Church's official statement concluded. "There is no doubt that today's ruling will intensify the debate in this country. We urge people on all sides of this issue to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility toward those with a different opinion."