SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A top leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed the faith’s opposition to same-sex marriage and “changes that confuse or alter gender” as debates over gender and sexuality reemerge throughout the United States.
Dallin H. Oaks, the second-highest-ranking leader of the faith known widely as the Mormon Church, told thousands of listeners gathered at a conference center at the church’s Salt Lake City headquarters that what he called “social and legal pressures” wouldn’t compel the church to alter its stances on same-sex marriage or matters of gender identity that he did not specify.
The highest level of salvation, Oaks said, “can only be attained through faithfulness to the covenants of an eternal marriage between a man and a woman. That divine doctrine is why we teach that gender is an essential characteristic of individual pre-mortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”
Oaks also said church doctrine “opposed changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women” and warned that “confusing gender, distorting marriage, and discouraging childbearing” was the devil’s work.
He also implored members of the faith to live peacefully and respect those with beliefs different than their own.
Oaks’ remarks reaffirm the faith’s long-held position on same-sex marriage that it has held to steadfastly even as its softened its policies on other LGTBQ matters, including allowing the children of same-sex couples to be baptized.
The Latter-day Saints’ reaffirmation of their stances comes as debates rage throughout the nation over transgender youth and what kids should learn about gender and sexuality. Officials in Texas have fought to classify gender confirmation surgeries as child abuse and Florida has outlawed instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
More than a dozen states have limited when transgender kids can participate in school sports, including Utah, where the church is based. It did not take an active role in the policy debate this year.
Oaks’ remarks come a day after church leaders opened their twice-yearly general conference emphasizing unity amid polarization, with high-ranking church official Neil L. Andersen rebuffing comparisons between church leaders and those “having worldly motives like political, business, and cultural leaders.”
On the closing day of the faith’s signature conference, officials also denounced war in Ukraine and efforts to remove religion from public life.
Russell M. Nelson, the church’s president-prophet, mentioned he had visited Russia and Ukraine many times and said all war was “horrifying,” stopping short of denouncing Russia’s invasion.
“I weep and pray for all who are affected by this conflict. The Church is doing all we can to help those who are suffering and struggling to survive” he said.