Gay-rights activists lie on the sidewalk near the temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City. The demonstration was a response to remarks from a church leader.
Gay-rights groups are asking a senior leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to take back comments he made at a recent church conference, calling the remarks dangerous and saying they could lead to more suicides by gay teens.
About a dozen gay-rights leaders approached one of the tallest buildings in Salt Lake City, the Mormon church headquarters, on Tuesday carrying a box.
Church spokesman Scott Trotter greeted them and took the cardboard box containing 150,000 signatures from people across the country upset by the recent statements from church leader Boyd K. Packer.
"Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural," Packer said. "Not so! Why would our heavenly father do that to anyone?"
At a protest against the church on Oct. 7, thousands dressed in black lay silently head-to-toe, circling a six-block perimeter.
"We want to tell men like Boyd K. Packer that we are tired of watching our children die," Eric Ethington of Pride In Utah, who organized the protest, told the demonstrators.
Among the protesters was 24-year-old Zachary Reichert, who is gay and was raised Mormon. He says his mother supports him, but his father wants him to go to therapy to make him straight.
"I was on the verge of thinking of suicide," he said. "Luckily I have a great sister, but it was really hard and I really understand why kids think about it, because religion has a huge impact on your life."
The Mormon leader's sermon came on the heels of several gay teen suicides across the country. Human Rights Campaign Director Joe Solmonese says that's particularly harmful.
"The danger with the statements that he made is that they will be believed as revealed truth and then used by some to rationalize discrimination or violence and by others to perpetuate a self-loathing or suicide," Solmonese said. "That is simply not acceptable conduct by a man who should know better."
Solmonese says there is a moral imperative to correct Packer's statements. He noted that the American Psychological Association and other groups have found that same-sex attraction is normal, and that therapies to make people straight cause harm.
Church leaders issued a rare statement late Tuesday afternoon in response to the protest. In it, they recognized that there are gay Mormons in their congregations. They also said it's not a sin to be attracted to people of the same sex, but it is sinful to act on those feelings.
Church spokesman Michael Otterson reiterated the Mormon doctrinal position.
"Any sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, and we define marriage as between a man and a woman," he said. "However, that should never, ever be used as justification for unkindness."
Otterson went on to point out that the church has recently spoken in favor of protections for gays in jobs and housing.
Kristine Haglund, editor of the Boston-based publication Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, says Packer's statements do highlight a theological dilemma for many Mormons.
"That really is the heart of it for Mormons, I think — to try and figure out what it means that people should be born with this inclination that can't be mapped onto Mormon theology," she said.
The incident comes at a time when the Mormon church is trying to repair its image after the fallout for its support of California's ban on gay marriage. Meanwhile, a Facebook page praising Packer's statements has attracted thousands of fans.