Mormon church leaders have restated the faith's unequivocal position against gay marriage in a letter to members in Argentina, where the government is debating whether to legalize gay unions.
"The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is absolutely clear: Marriage is between one man and woman and is ordained of God," said the July 6 letter from church President Thomas S. Monson.
A copy of the letter and its English translation began circulating over the weekend on websites for former Mormons.
Church spokeswoman Kim Farah on Monday confirmed the letter was sent to local leaders in Argentina, where the faith has more than 371,000 members, according to a 2010 church almanac. The country's population is more than 41 million.
Argentina's Senate is debating whether to approve either gay marriage or a civil union law. The country's other legislative body — the House of Deputies — approved same-sex marriage legislation in May. President Cristina Fernandez has promised not to veto the measure if it reaches her desk.
The letter falls short of calling for political activism by members in Argentina, but is an echo of a 2008 letter from Monson to Latter-day Saints in California. Monson had called for Mormons to give their time and money to help pass Proposition 8, a state ballot initiative to ban gay marriage.
The church was seen as a driving force behind that initiative's success, with members donating tens of millions of dollars to the campaign.
In a statement, Farah said "the church has taken no official position on the legislation being considered" in Argentina.
Still, Mormon historian, D. Michael Quinn, said the letter is a significant step in political activism for the church outside the United States.
"They have not urged (members) to take political steps, but they are taking a half-step in that direction," said Quinn, a former professor at the church-owned Brigham Young University who was excommunicated and is gay. "It demonstrates two things: how much an issue this for the LDS leadership, and what they are willing to risk."
Quinn said he did not know if the Utah-based church, which has more than 13 million members and a presence in more than 170 countries, had ever drafted similar letters in other countries where gay marriage has been made legal.
Farah could not immediately confirm whether the letter was the church's first such statement abroad.
Since the 1990s, the church has been politically active in defeating same-sex marriage initiatives across the U.S. and was a signature on a letter seeking a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Argentina letter was directed to congregations in the Buenos Aires area and states that it is a response to concerns stemming from the proposed legislation that would change the definition of marriage.
The letter encourages members to review the "Proclamation on the Family," a 1995 statement from church leaders that set out traditional marriage as a sacred institution ordained by God and the family as a fundamental pillar of society.
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