While many gay Mormons acknowledge that progress has been made in recent years with top LDS Church leadership addressing their concerns, there is yet progress to be made, says one representative of a group that had hoped to meet with leadership this week.

Micah Bisson, youth services director of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons, was one of several panelists that addressed an audience at the annual Sunstone Symposium on Saturday. He told the Deseret News he's seen "some forward movement and very positive messages relayed to gay and lesbian members."

While the church maintains that sex with someone of the same gender is a sin, "the core being of gay or lesbian is no longer a sin in and of itself," according to recent statements by church leaders, he said.

"A lot of us in Affirmation see that as great progress." He said he sees church members "slowly coming that direction. Change in the smallest form does take time. But I believe members are starting to understand it's not inherently a sin just to be gay."

His own coming out with his family "was a little rough. Over course of time and many, many discussions, my family has come to fully accept me for who I am. It has basically turned into a non-issue with me and my extended family. I'm very, very fortunate," though he knows many who are not, he said.

A couple of issues he and others had hoped to discuss with church leaders this month — before the church postponed the meeting due to a leadership change in its social services division — is the rate of suicide among gay Mormons and the homelessness some young people face when they tell their LDS families they are gay.

At a press conference scheduled Monday morning, Bisson and others will discuss a statement they released to the media on Friday, that says Utah has "one of the highest suicide rates in the United states," and his organization has documented "over 30 suicides of gay Mormons."

"Affirmation leaders believe the LDS leaders have contributed to these tragedies by the way they talk about and to gay people. Tonight a gay teenager will be thrown out onto the street by his or her LDS family, contributing to an above-average homeless rate for adolescents in the Mountain West and Northwest states," the statement says. "Throughout the church, families are being broken apart, often forever, because family members don't know how to deal with a loved one who tells them that he or she is gay."

It quotes Affirmation's senior assistant executive director, David Melson, saying "the items that we had planned to discuss (with the church) all focus on education and toning down some of the rhetoric. Nothing that we will be proposing requires any change in doctrine. The deaths, the homelessness and the grief that occur because of well-intentioned but misguided practices are real, and they must all stop, now," Melson said.

One Sunstone session addressed the "rising gay generation" in the church, with Bisson as a panelist. He spoke about the challenges teens face when they realize they are gay, whether LDS or not, and how attitudes have changed during the past half-century.

Another panel talked about the LDS Church's formal opposition to gay marriage in California in a letter from the faith's First Presidency, asking members to donate their time and money to a ballot initiative aimed at overturning that state's supreme court decision legalizing the practice earlier this year.

Clark Pingree said he lived through Utah's failed referendum on extending domestic partnership benefits a few years ago before moving to San Francisco, where he was elated to hear that the California Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage earlier this year.

As a Latter-day Saint who has talked openly in public about being gay before, he said he hopes to "be a catalyst for constructive dialogue," in the gay community.

He said he expected the LDS Church to respond to the court's decision, and he "began to prepare myself emotionally. I thought maybe the church might take a softer approach this time around," citing an article last October in the church's Ensign magazine that seemed "pro-active rather than reactive."

"Surely the LDS Church would stand their ground in opposition to gay marriage, but I thought maybe this time, they would err on the side of love, compassion and tolerance. They seemed to be headed this direction in recent years."

But when he saw a copy of the letter, "my hopes evaporated. I felt like a scapegoat in an organization I once would have given anything for. I felt I was thrown under the bus by my church and then backed over a few more times. I long for companionship, hope for a family of my own, aspire for commitment, monogamy and complete loyalty."

Pingree said he believes gay marriage "will offer much-needed protection to spouses and children, reduce sexual promiscuity and the transmission of HIV. I feel it's morally and socially responsible. And it will encourage people like me to stop marrying your heterosexual daughters."

Attorney Nadine Hansen said she wonders how the church will respond to Latter-day Saints who conscientiously oppose the church's position in California. "Will they lose a temple recommend, be disfellowshipped or encouraged to resign?"

She said her daughter is creating a web site — mormonsformarriage.com — where those who oppose the church's stand can go for information. "I'm very proud of her contribution to that cause. In coming months we will see tens of millions of dollars raised and spent in California over one word — marriage."

Hansen asked how the money "might be better spent? What if it supported premarital counseling to help people before they enter marriage? Provided universal health care? What if supported paid paternity leave so women who work could stay home with new babies. What about day care or job sharing?

"I'm not saying all these are do-able or good public policies, but are not the underlying problems they address moral issues? Are they not more important than whether or not gay people call their unions marriage?"

Kaimipono Wenger, assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson Law School in San Diego, said he has been peppered with questions from ward members about how the church's letter and call for voluntary opposition will impact the church itself.

Some wonder whether the church will lose its tax exempt status: "almost certainly not;" whether allowing same sex marriage to stand will open the door to polygamy: "this doesn't apply to polygamy" though "it's possible it could be changed in the future."

Others question whether the church can legally organize volunteers in opposition to gay marriage. "Generally yes. You can't support a certain candidate" for public office, "but organizations have broad ability to weigh in on particular issues ... This is not a church and state problem from a legal perspective."

He's also often asked if the opposition wins, what will happen to thousands of same sex couples who married in California. "Nobody knows. There is the potential that this could retroactively nullify marriages and the potential that it would not."


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