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 who 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 related 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."

At a news conference scheduled this 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."

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.

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?"

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 it supported paid paternity leave so women who work could stay home with new babies? What about day care or job sharing?"

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."


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