Television polygamy drama Big Love returns for a fourth season in January with a gay storyline that is likely to stir up controversy in Mormon circles where homosexual relations are prohibited.

The creators of the HBO cable show, about a non-Mormon polygamous family living in Utah, plan to explore a same-sex relationship between two male characters involved in a fictional breakaway sect at the center of the series.

The theme will be developed over early episodes of Big Love when it returns to HBO on Jan 10, the network confirmed on Wednesday.

It follows an uproar in the U.S. gay community last year over the Mormon church's prominent support of the campaign to overthrow same-sex marriage laws in California.

There's a provocative nature to what we're doing, co-creator Mark Olsen told Entertainment Weekly magazine.

It's more than just the Mormon culture. We're highlighting certain aspects of the church's relationship with its gay members that I think, as the story unfolds, is going to cause no (small) amount of controversy.

The 13.5 million member Mormon church, officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, officially banned polygamy in 1890 and has distanced itself from Big Love.

But critics of the program say that despite its focus on a fundamentalist sect, the TV show sometimes blurs the distinction between it and the church.

It is important to remember that 'Big Love' is a work of fiction, Latter-day Saints spokeswoman Kim Farah said on Wednesday.

Big Love, which first aired in 2006, stars Bill Paxton as a man with three wives and eight children. The show won three Golden Globe nominations this week.

The first episode of the new season involves Alby, a son of the leader of a fictional polygamist group, in a close encounter with a male trustee. Both have been struggling with their sexuality.

Joel Campbell, a columnist with the unofficial church website, accused Big Love of again using fuzzy plot lines to stick it to the LDS church.

Once again it sounds like Olsen and company are ready to blur the lines between a fictional fundamentalist group and what is practiced in the LDS Church. Bottom line: Producers are using their artistic license as a screen for misinformation and bigotry.

The official LDS web site says sexual relations are governed by the Law of Chastity, which prohibits homosexual or lesbian relations and says physical intimacy should be exercised only between a man and a woman who are legally married.