The children of same-sex parents will be banned from blessings and baptism until they turn 18 and disavow gay marriage under a new Mormon Church policy that deems homosexual parents to be apostates, or people who have renounced their faith.
The new policies are part of "Handbook 1," a guide for lay leaders of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has the actively fought gay marriage. It was a Utah case that helped set the table for the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage across the country in June.
The changes in the handbook were first posted Thursday on Facebook by John Dehlin, who said he was excommunicated earlier this year for being an advocate for civil same-sex marriage and the ordination of women to the all-male Mormon priesthood. Posting the documents set off a storm in the social media universe.
They also come as top church leaders were seen by some as trying to build bridges to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
"It's just totally surprising," Dehlin told the Salt Lake Tribune, the first newspaper to report on the handbook changes that were sent to local leaders on Thursday. "This is a level of retrenchment that I don't think anybody could have envisioned."
The revised language is a significant step for the Mormon Church, which has long taught that same-sex marriage between its members may require disciplinary action. Under the new policy, those in a gay marriage are to be considered apostate, akin to a dissenter or even a traitor.
“Church handbooks are policy and procedural guides for lay leaders who must administer the Church in many varied circumstances throughout the world,” said church spokesman Eric Hawkins in an email on Friday. “The Church has long been on record as opposing same-sex marriages. While it respects the law of the land, and acknowledges the right of others to think and act differently, it does not perform or accept same-sex marriage within its membership.”
The changes also affect children and those who become missionaries when they turn 18. Mormon children are normally blessed as infants and entered into the LDS Church records. They are then baptized around 8 years old, an essential step marking the child’s full participation and the theological fulfillment of making a covenant with God.
To Mormons, the steps of registering and baptism bring the child into the community. But children of same-sex married couples or cohabitating partners would be asked, in effect, to choose between their parents' lifestyle or their church’s doctrine. The changes in the handbook mean that the decision is put off until adulthood.
The church was especially active in the fight against gay marriage in 2008, when the issue first roiled California.
The church also played a role in the 2013 case, Kitchen vs. Herbert, one of the first gay marriage cases, decided by U.S. Judge Robert J. Shelby, who strongly ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. Because this case came from a conservative state where an opposing church was so deeply entrenched, it helped set the agenda for a later wave of cases across the nation.
Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage last June.
The latest church action also comes after Salt Lake City, where the Mormon headquarters is located, this week elected Jackie Biskupski as the city’s first openly gay mayor.
Last month, high–ranking Mormon leaders repeated the denomnation's commitment to families led by married heterosexual couples, but also urged attendees at a conservative conference not to shun those with opposing views.
M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Mormon governing body called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke to about 3,000 attendees at the World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City. His comments were seen by some as a gesture to the reality that gay marriage had been legalized but that religions could still have a different view.
A week earlier, Dallin H. Oaks, a fellow member of the quorum, called for compromises between protecting religious liberties and prohibiting discrimination.
Oaks also criticized the Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis for refusing to issue licenses for gay marriages. Her office began issuing the licenses under court order and Davis served six days in jail for contempt.
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