SALT LAKE CITY >> Mormon leaders once again used their biannual conference Saturday to outline the faith’s commitment to the belief that marriage is an institution exclusive to a man and a woman.
L. Tom Perry, a high-ranking church leader, cautioned Mormons not to be swayed by a world filled with media and entertainment that makes the minority seem like the majority and tries to make mainstream values seem obsolete.
Perry said strong, traditional families are the basic units of a stable society, a stable economy and a stable culture of values. He said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ would continue to be a leading voice on the issue.
"We want our voice to be heard against all of the counterfeit and alternative lifestyles that try to replace the family organization that God Himself established," said Perry, a member of the faith’s Quorum of the Twelve.
The quorum is a governing body of the church that is modeled after Jesus Christ’s apostles and serves under the church president and his two counselors
The conference kicked off Saturday without the usual welcoming address from church President Thomas S. Monson, 87, who officials said chose to reduce the number of speeches he’s giving this time.
He was present at conference, walking in on his own power. He is scheduled to give speeches later Saturday and again on Sunday. He also missed a meeting this week with President Barack Obama, who was in Utah for a visit.
During his speech, Perry recalled participating in the Colloquium on Marriage and Family in November at the Vatican with other faith leaders. He noted that there exists a shared belief among many faiths about the importance of marriage being between a man and woman.
What sets Mormon belief apart, Perry said, is their belief that marriages and families are forever.
"Our marriage ceremonies eliminate the words ’till death do us part’ and instead say, ‘for time and for all eternity,’" Perry said.
As acceptance for gay marriage has swelled in recent years and same-sex unions have become legal in dozens of states including Utah, the church’s stance on homosexuality has softened.
Church leaders helped push through a Utah law this year that bars housing and employment discrimination against gay and transgender individuals while also expanding protections for the rights of religious groups and individuals. LGBT activists have spent years pushing for a statewide non-discrimination law, but couldn’t get traction until LDS leaders made a nationwide call for this type of legislation that combined protections for religious liberties.
But the religion has taken time during conferences to emphasize its insistence that marriage should be limited to unions between a man and a woman, as God created.
In April 2014, Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum said, "While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not."
In the October 2013, Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum said human laws cannot "make moral what God has declared immoral."
Perry wasn’t the only leader who spoke about marriage Saturday morning.
Boyd Packer, president of the quorum, spoke about the joy of romance and love, preaching "a cookie and a kiss" as key ingredients to successful marriages. Linda Burton, general president of the church’s Relief Society, the organization for women, urged spouses to be more caring and compassionate.
At the outset of the conference, the faith’s third-highest ranking leader, Dieter F. Uchtdorf welcomed 20,000 in attendance and millions more watching broadcasts around the world instead of Monson.
Church spokesman Dale Jones said in a statement that Monson has chosen to reduce his number of talks this weekend. Officials said he skipped the meeting with Obama on Thursday night to preserve his strength for the conference.
Monson has missed only one other welcoming speech at a conference since he was named president in February 2008. That was at the fall conference in October 2011.
In the Mormon faith, which counts 15 million members worldwide, church presidents are considered living prophets. Monson is the 16th president of a faith founded in 1830.
Monson’s wife, Frances Monson, died at the age of 85 in May 2013.
When Monson took office in 2008, he was a familiar face and personality. A church bishop at the age of 22, Monson became a church apostle in 1963 and served as a counselor for three church presidents.
Monson has kept a relatively low profile during his tenure, but he’s given dozens of speeches during the conferences.
The biannual Mormon conference runs Saturday and Sunday in Salt Lake City. More than 100,000 people will file through the church’s conference center over five sessions.
The church holds two conferences each year.