SALT LAKE CITY – National gay rights activists said Friday they'll descend on Salt Lake City's Mormon church headquarters to deliver more than 100,000 letters asking a senior church leader to recant recent anti-gay statements.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay civil rights organization, this week called for Boyd K. Packer to correct statements that homosexuality is unnatural and can be overcome, calling the comments factually inaccurate and dangerous.
Packer, 86, holds the second-highest leadership position in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is next in line for the church's presidency.
His remarks came Sunday during the faith's 180th semiannual general conference and were broadcast live to millions worldwide.
The Human Rights Campaign asked members and supporters for letters Tuesday and already have more than 100,000, said Fred Sainz, the group's vice president for communications. A second e-mail asking for letters was planned for Friday.
The group will hold a joint news conference Tuesday in Salt Lake City with Utah's gay rights leaders and Affirmation, a support group for gay Latter-day Saints, before delivering the letters to church headquarters, Sainz said.
"We believe that it's important to hold individuals and institutions accountable for inaccurate statements that are dangerous to any community of Americans," Sainz said. "These statements by Elder Packer were not only scientifically and factually inaccurate, but on the heels of a number of suicides around the country, about as dangerous as it gets."
At least four young men, including 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, committed suicide last month after reportedly being victims of anti-gay bullying.
Sainz notes that both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association dispute the efficacy of reparative therapies that attempt to alter a person's sexual orientation. A 2009 study in the medical journal Pediatrics also found that telling teens they can change their orientation often increases the likelihood of suicide.
Packer is president of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Church officials have responded to criticism of Packer's remarks by saying the faith's "doctrine on the importance of marriage and family and its implications for same-gender marriage are very clear and are based on principles of truth, respect, and love for all of God's children."
In a statement, church officials also said there is no room in the discussion for hatred or the mistreatment of any individuals. Church spokeswoman Kim Farah said Friday that the faith's leaders had no immediate response to the group's plans.
On Thursday night, activists dressed in black to symbolize the loss of young, gay Mormons to suicide, and lay head-to-toe on the sidewalks circling the church's six-block downtown campus. Police estimated the crowd at roughly 1,000, although activists cited a figure of 4,500.
Church leaders in 2008 urged Mormons to give their time and money to the successful campaign to pass a California ballot initiative that reinstated a ban on gay marriage months after a state Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage. A federal judge this year overturned the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.