OGDEN, Utah, Dec. 31--The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saintsresponded to a plea to change its position on homosexuality by refusing tobudge.

More than 300 gay and lesbian Mormons, friends and family memberssigned a petition asking the church to back off its view that homosexualityis sinful and unnatural.

The petition, asking that full church fellowship be extended tohomosexuals, appeared Dec. 23 as a full-page ad in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Its author, Mac Madsen, said signers, which hail from 12 different countriesand most of the 50 states, represent only a fraction of supporters.

The retired Weber State University assistant professor said placing thepetition in a public forum came only after years of repeated attempts toengage church leadership in a dialogue on policies directed toward gay andlesbian members.

"Let us express our concerns about the pain, the broken families, theleaving the church," said Madsen. "Can we just talk about the issues?"

The church issued a terse, written response.

"The petition raises nothing new," read the statement. "PresidentGordon B. Hinckley has repeatedly expressed the church's compassion towardhomosexuals."

Randy Ripplinger, LDS church spokesman, reiterated Hinckley's positionthat gays and lesbians are welcome in the church but expected to followapproved rules of conduct whether single or married.

"We recognize marriage as between a man and a woman," Ripplinger said.

He was unsure whether the church would issue a longer statement laterand could not confirm whether discussions on the matter are under way amongLDS leaders.

So far, the petition has appeared only in the Tribune. Costconsiderations caused supporters to look for the greatest readercirculation, Madsen said.

Eric Jensen, who handles political and advocacy ads for the NewspaperAgency Corporation, said the Deseret News exercised its option not to runthe ad after learning what it contained in September. Jensen said the LDSchurch-owned newspaper often refuses ads touching on issues sensitive to itsreadership such as those hawking tobacco and alcohol.

The petition's supporters disagree with the church's understanding ofhomosexuality as a lifestyle choice and challenge its endorsement of conversion therapy as a means of changing sexual orientation. They sayinitial studies support a biological link in homosexuality.

"The petition should not be construed as an attack on the church orchurch leadership but as a public appeal to reconsider, then change a policythat is causing unimaginable pain, turmoil and disillusionment," Madsensaid.

The church's guarded response is typical, said Duane Jennings,spokesman for the Utah chapter of Affirmation, a group for homosexuals whowish to maintain their connection to the Mormon church.

Jennings said a history of martyrdom among Mormons contributes to thefeeling that any view departing from "their view of the perfect world" isone that threatens the church.

"It's probably the key problem within the church," Jennings said. "Itallows for huge evil, basically, to go on."

Gay advocates say church policy that treats homosexuals as less thanfull members feeds hate and homophobia.

For years, the church counseled homosexual members to marry and live aheterosexual lifestyle. In 1988, the church softened its position somewhatdeclaring marriage is not a cure-all for homosexuality and encouraging gaysto remain celibate.

"It's institutionalized loneliness for a person's whole life," Jenningssaid.

In addition, church leaders have supported legislation opposing gaymarriage in at least six states including Hawaii and Alaska. The churchrefused comment on political activities.

Despite his misgivings regarding the policies of the institution,Jennings considers himself a Mormon and retains his membership.

"My faith is in God," he said. "I believe in the restoration of allthings."

Some say either support the institution or leave it. That choice ispart of the free agency endorsed by the church, said Ray Ward, a Mormonsince 1954, who frequently speaks out on social issues.

Ward said there are penalties for disobeying church law.

"Everyone, according to our doctrine, is born with the light of Christ,and we know the difference between right and wrong."

Ward said he doesn't believe that homosexuals are acting according toan inborn trait. "It's just a lifestyle that they have chosen ... They crossthe line on those certain moral values."

Some LDS church members agree that more education on gay issues isneeded among heterosexuals.

One of them, Sam Trujillo, an LDS ward mission leader in Layton, saidincreased openness on a subject that once was never discussed is a signsociety is moving in the right direction.

Trujillo said he is not acquainted with any acknowledged homosexualsand believes his experience mirrors that of many heterosexual Mormons, whosimply haven't thought much about the gay experience.

"We're extending our morality to them," Trujillo said. "It's tough,because unless we walk a mile in their shoes ... it's hard to say."

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