A screenshot of the new website, mormonsandgays.org.

A screenshot of the new website, mormonsandgays.org.

The Mormon Church has launched a new website in an attempt to "encourage understanding" with gays and lesbians, an effort heralded by activists as a departure from the church's perceived hostility toward the LGBT community.

Presented as a “collection of conversations” with LDS leaders and Mormons “who are attracted to people of the same sex,” the website, mormonsandgays.org, launched Thursday.

The site includes an unusual statement for a major religious body: that sexuality, including same-sex attraction, is not a personal choice. But it maintains that acting on that attraction is still a "sin."

“What we do know is that the doctrine of the church – that sexual activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married – has not changed and is not changing,” Elder Quentin Cook said in statement announcing the site's launch. “But what is changing and what needs to change is to help our own members and families understand how to deal with same-gender attraction.”

The website, which a spokesman said has been in production for more than two years, features a number of videos from top church leaders and gay and straight lay Mormons, who share their experiences counseling Mormons who suffer from AIDS and advising Mormon parents not to reject children who pursue a gay lifestyle. 

The development of the site was launched only a short time after the Mormon Church encouraged its members to get involved in the high-profile fight over Proposition 8 -- a ban on gay marriage -- in California in 2008. 

The church, which was blasted by the LGBT community at the time, has since ended directives that Latter-Day Saints should oppose civil rights for gay families. In 2009, it officially endorsed gay rights initiatives in Salt Lake City that stopped just short of civil unions or marriage.

“On this website we witness something that church leaders rarely do: admit that we’ve done things wrong in the past. In light of this, the clear admission that things need to change is particularly welcome, if long overdue," Spencer Clark, executive director for Mormons for Marriage Equality, said in an email to NBC News.

Public acceptance of gay marriage among all Americans has increased to record highs. A Gallup poll released Wednesday showed that 53 percent of Americans favor legalizing same-sex marriage.

Year-to-year membership statistics for the Mormon church place it among the fastest-growing religions, with more than 5 million members in the U.S. and more than 14 million members worldwide, the church reported in early 2012. 

Randall Thacker, president elect for Affirmation, an organization supporting gay and lesbian Mormons, said the site brings to surface the openness of the Mormon culture to adaptation.

“The church is adaptable because we have a worldwide religion, which brings in people every day from all different perspectives and frames of reference, and so we have to be able to have a church membership that is ready for change,” Thacker told NBC News.

For Clark, the website represents a turning point for his faith’s stance on homosexuality.

“Too often, gay Mormons and their families have felt that they had to choose between their loyalty to each other and to their church,” Clark said. “Latter-Day Saints have often described gay individuals as ‘struggling with same-sex attraction’ without considering whether the true test from God was on those who are straight to see if they would struggle loving those who are gay. We simply can’t claim to love God, and not love the gay children, parents or neighbors that he has placed in our lives.”  

Jim Dabakis, a former Mormon missionary and soon to be the only gay person in the state legislature, told the Salt Lake Tribune he’s thrilled with the new site.

“I give tremendous credit to the LDS Church,” Dabakis said. “This can’t have been easy,” acknowledging ever-improving relations between the Mormon church and the gay community. 

Clark said he believes the website will help heal deep-seated wounds.  

“It is clear that church leaders have heard the voices and stories of so many Mormons who have been working to make things better for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and I believe this will help open the door to even greater progress in the future.” 

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