Just because the nation may change its laws to "tolerate legalized acts of immorality" does not make those acts any less spiritually damaging, senior apostle Boyd K. Packer said Saturday morning at the LDS Church's 183rd Annual General Conference.
"The permissiveness afforded by the weakening of the laws of the land to tolerate legalized acts of immorality," Packer said, "does not reduce the serious spiritual consequences that result from the violation of God's law of chastity."
Packer, president of the Utah-based faith's Quorum of Twelve Apostles and next in line to take over the church's reins, didn't specifically mention gay marriage, but his comments came amid much controversy on the issue nationwide and a significant swing in public and political opinion toward favoring such same-sex unions.
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering two cases on the matter, one concerning whether to uphold California's LDS Church-backed Proposition 8, which limits marriage to unions between men and women, and the other on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which also defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
In addition, the Boy Scouts of America recently announced it is weighing whether to lift a long-standing ban on allowing openly gay members and leaders in the organization. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the nation's largest sponsor of Scouting.
"Tolerance is a virtue, but, like all virtues, when exaggerated it transforms itself into a vice," said the 88-year-old Packer, speaking from his chair rather than from the pulpit. "We need to be careful of the 'tolerance trap' so that we are not swallowed up in it."
His sermon also came amid a softening tone from LDS leaders toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. In December, the church unveiled a new website - mormonsandgays.org - that calls for compassion and understanding toward LGBT people.
Same-sex attraction is not a sin," the website emphasizes, "but acting on it is." At the same time, Mormon teachings decree that sex should be between only a husband and a wife - something apostle David A. Bednar further highlighted during his speech Saturday afternoon.
"The commandment to multiply and replenish the Earth remains in force today," Bednar said. "Thus, marriage between a man and a woman is the authorized channel through which premortal spirits enter mortality. Complete sexual abstinence before marriage and total fidelity within marriage protect the sanctity of this sacred channel."
He promised that obedience to the law of chastity would lead to greater happiness in life and make possible progress in eternity.