The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is taking an austere approach to same-sex families by barring their children from joining the church until they turn 18 and potentially excommunicating those who have married the same sex, according to The New York Times.
Children of gay couples will only be able to join the church by leaving their parents’ homes, repudiating same-sex relationships, and receiving special authorization from top leadership.
The new rules were found in a handbook for lay leaders, who preside over the church’s 30,000 congregations all around the globe. The church did not publicly announce the new policy, but it was leaked to the press and later confirmed by a spokesman.
“The church has long been on record as opposing same-sex marriages,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement, according to The Times. “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.”
Before the change, lower-level leaders had more autonomy in determining whether or how to reprimand followers in same-sex marriages. But now same-sex marriage is considered apostasy. “Mormons in same-sex marriages will be subject to disciplinary hearings that result in excommunication,” the Times reported.
The Mormon church’s handling of LGBT issues has often drawn public scrutiny. It fiercely lobbied for Proposition 8, which successfully banned same-sex marriages in California in 2008 but was overturned two years later.
However, in recent months, the LDS church actually played a significant role in promoting anti-discrimination policies.
In March, The Christian Science Monitor reported on the church’s backing of a successfully passed bill that provides legal protections for LGBT people in Utah, while also protecting religious institutions that are against homosexuality from prosecution:
But the process could not have even begun, many say, without the support of the state’s influential Mormon leaders, who this year have begun a profound shift in their tone toward LGBT people, after being outspoken in their opposition to gay marriage for years.
Last fall, after federal court rulings made gay marriage legal in Utah, church leaders urged its members to be gracious and civil. Dallin Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the governing body of the church, said members should reject persecution “of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation.”
However even before this latest policy change, gay Mormons have not had it easy, according to a study published in January. More than 70 percent of LGBT Mormons leave the church, 80 percent are trying to change their sexual orientation, and more than half reject their religious identity, according to a survey conducted by researchers from the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. The author of the study, a member of the church, was excommunicated after the results were published.
“I want you to know, Brother Dehlin, that this action was not taken against you because you have doubts or because you were asking questions about Church doctrine ... But you do not have the right to remain a member of the Church in good standing while openly and publicly trying to convince others that Church teachings are in error,” a letter from the church to Mr. Dehlin read, adding that the reasons for excommunication were unrelated to his views on same-sex marriage. It also said that excommunication is not necessarily permanent but usually lasts at least a year. Dehlin appealed the decision.