Leaders of the Mormon Church launched a new website on Thursday which, despite saying the church is still opposed to same-sex marriage, encourages churchgoers to be more compassionate in discussions over homosexuality.
Officials from the church insisted that it had not changed its stance that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and that being gay is still a sin, reports the Washington Post.
The website, however, goes on to appeal to gay and lesbian Mormons not to leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
It is titled “Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction,” and it claims to reflect the views of the higest authorities of the Mormon Church.
“Reconciling same-sex attraction with a religious life can present an especially trying dilemma,” reads the website, written by leaders of the church. “Anyone who lives in both worlds can attest to its difficulty. But with faith, love and perspective, it can be done.”
The Mormon Church faced heavy criticism for helping to fund, and lead the Proposition 8 campaign, which voters adopted in the state of California, banning equal marriage, after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex unions were legal.
Church leaders were surprised by the backlash from members of their own church, as well as gay rights activists, who said that such an institution should not have been playing such a prominent role in the political battle.
Since that reaction, the church had been seen to be attempting to reach out to gays and lesbians, in an act of remedying tensions. Officials wrote:
“We must not judge anyone for the feelings they experience,” church authorities wrote, saying being gay “should not be viewed as a disease or illness.”
The words “gay” and “lesbian” are not often used by the website, but instead it uses terms such as people “with same-sex attraction”. It also features testimony from gay members who are not in same-sex relationships.
Ben McKay, 25, Edinburgh, who asked to have his name removed from the Mormon Church records at the age of 21, told PinkNews that the changes were due to social pressure, and that gay and lesbian people don’t have a place within the church. He said:
“As two men or two women can’t naturally procreate – regardless of fertility – homosexual relationships have no place in the Mormon concept of the world. They believe that Mormonism doctrine affects all of us, Mormon or not.
“They had very clear-cut doctrinal reasons behind the black/white divide, but they overcame those doctrines when social pressure mounted.
“What we are seeing now in their ‘evolving attitudes’ about homosexuality is just the same.”
John Gustav-Wrathall, 49, was excommunicated from the church in 1986 after telling his bishop that he was gay, said it was significant that the site was using the terms “gay” or “lesbian” at all.
“This is huge,” said Mr Gustav-Wrathall, who has been with his partner for 20 years. “I don’t see any hint of condemnation.”
The website says that gay or lesbian Mormons who abstain from same-sex relationships will be allowed “full fellowship in the church,” which would include temple rituals, and could include holding the priesthood. Both of those honours have historically been reserved for only the most highly-regarded church members.
The site also goes on to say that the church would not “necessarily advise” gay people to “marry those of the opposite sex”, as it had done in the past.
“Same-sex attraction itself is not a sin, but yielding to it is,” the website reads. “However, through repentance Jesus Christ will offer forgiveness.”
Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, an LGBT rights group in Salt Lake City, says this new campaign by the church is a move forward, as it could reduce the isolation gay Mormons could feel. A lot of gay Mormons say they had been rejected by their families, and many leave the church.
Ms Larabee also said that the church could do more, citing the fact that it still opposes same-sex relationships.