SALT LAKE CITY -- Mormon leaders made their most significant outreach yet to gays and lesbians, unveiling a new website yesterday that encourages church members to be more compassionate in discussions about homosexuality.
Church officials insist they haven't changed the Mormon teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman and that same-sex relationships are sinful. But the website states that Mormons should be loving and respectful toward gays and lesbians, while appealing to gay and lesbian Mormons to stay in the church.
"Reconciling same-sex attraction with a religious life can present an especially trying dilemma," church leaders wrote on the website. "Anyone who lives in both worlds can attest to its difficulty. But with faith, love and perspective, it can be done."
Gay rights advocates welcomed the effort while expressing hope the church would someday accept same-sex marriage.
"My hope is that this assists our most vulnerable, our youth, to have a safe place to be able to talk about their identity and maintain a safe place within their families and communities," said Valerie Balken, of Equality Utah, the state's largest gay rights advocacy group.
Balken said her organization was alerted earlier this week to the website launch, but was not consulted over the two years the church developed the site.
The site, titled "Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction," states that it reflects the views of the highest authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Church leaders say in the presentation that gay and lesbian Mormons who are not in same-sex relationships can have "full fellowship in the church," including holding the priesthood and participating in temple rituals -- a privilege reserved only for members in good standing.
And the church said it would no longer "necessarily advise" gays to "marry those of the opposite sex."
"Same-sex attraction itself is not a sin, but yielding to it is," the website states. "However, through repentance Jesus Christ will offer forgiveness." Church officials posted video testimony from members who struggled with the issue, either through having gay children or realizing they were gay.
Among the testimonies is a lengthy, emotional one from a man identified only as Tyler, about how he struggled with hopelessness and alienation from God as he tried to reconcile his attraction to other men with his dedication to the church.
The issue is particularly challenging for Latter-day Saints, who believe that Mormons in good standing spend eternity together with their families. A family member who leaves the church, a common occurrence for gay and lesbian Mormons, will remain separated from their relatives.
Tyler eventually married a woman, Danielle, and they have a baby boy. Danielle said they were able to discuss his homosexuality and find a way to be happy, but "having that eternal perspective was a very important thing for us."
Mormons faced intense criticism after church leaders helped fund and lead the fight for California's Proposition 8, a constitutional ban on gay marriage that voters adopted in 2008 after the state Supreme Court ruled that gay Californians could marry. Since then, church leaders have been trying to heal tensions.