SALT LAKE CITY — If Mormon opposition to same-sex marriage does not prevail in the United States, Mormons should respond graciously and “practice civility with our adversaries,” a leading church apostle counseled Saturday (Oct. 4) at the faith’s General Conference.

“We should be persons of goodwill toward all,” said Dallin H. Oaks, a senior of member of the Mormon’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation.”

Oaks, who has been outspoken in defending Mormons’ stance against gay marriage, said those in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be exemplars of civility.

“We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs,” he said during the afternoon session of the 184th Semiannual LDS General Conference, a two-day meeting broadcast across the world via satellite, TV or the Internet. “Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious.”

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from five states, including Utah, in which federal appeals courts had struck down bans against gay marriage. Within hours, clerks across Utah, Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin and Oklahoma began issuing marriage certificates to gay and lesbian couples.

The Supreme Court’s action on Monday effectively extends same-sex marriage to 30 states and the District of Columbia — the first time a majority of Americans live in states with marriage equality.

The Utah-based church was heavily invested in California’s 2008 fight to ban same-sex marriage, but was also stung by the backlash directed at Mormons for their support of Proposition 8. That law, along with much of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer.

The apostle, who was once a Utah Supreme Court justice, urged Mormon families not to shun those who do not share their LDS faith.

“Surely we can teach our children values and standards of behavior without having them distance themselves or show disrespect to any who are different,” Oaks said. “We challenge all youth to avoid bullying, insults or language and practices that deliberately inflict pain on others. All of these violate the Savior’s command to love one another.”

(Peggy Fletcher Stack writes for The Salt Lake Tribune. Kevin Eckstrom contributed to this report)