The Mormon Church has long been staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage, but Thursday the church took this up a notch.
In an update to its leadership manual, the church announced that it would deny baptism to children of same-sex couples, and for the first time listed same-sex marriage under the definition of apostasy — the rejection of church teachings, reports Salt Lake city’s KUTV.
“A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing,” reads the policy on baptism.
Once those children reach age 18, they can be baptized and become church members if they stop living with parents who are in same-sex relationships and take a position opposing such relationships, although this would still require approval of the top church governing body, known as the First Presidency, KUTV reports.
For apostasy, the penalty is up to and including excommunication, which is the severing of all ties to the church. Same-sex marriage will now be listed alongside other actions already considered apostate, such as joining another church and advocating its teachings, or repeatedly advocating any teaching contrary to Mormon doctrine.
A screen shot of the expanded apostasy definition was posted online today, and a church spokesman confirmed to KUTV that it is accurate, along with the policy on baptism of children. Both measures go into effect immediately.
“It is an unfortunate move by the church today,” Randall Thacker, president of Affirmation, a group for LGBT Mormons and their allies, told The Advocate. Neither policy had been codified previously, he said. “It does feel like they’re cutting us further off from the community.”
Thacker said these actions will be “incredibly emotionally damaging” to LGBT Mormons, especially young people just coming to terms with their sexuality, and to parents seeking to support LGBT children.
On the baptism policy, he said, “I do not understand the Jesus Christ who would deny baptism to a child based only on the status of his parents, and I am confounded that a church bearing his name would do so.” The church’s official name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many same-sex couples, he noted, have brought up children in the LDS Church.
The actions, he added, come after some conciliatory moves by the church, such as supporting an LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination law in Utah and setting up an outreach website called MormonsAndGays.org. The site, however, repeats the official church teaching that while “same-sex attraction” is not a sin, acting on it is. As for transgender people, the church frowns on gender transition.
The actions also come in a week when a new study indicated that rank-and-file Mormons are becoming more accepting of homosexuality. The Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study, released Tuesday, found that in 2014, 36 percent of Mormon respondents said homosexuality should be accepted by society, up from 24 percent in a corresponding 2007 study. But only 26 percent of Mormon respondents in the 2014 study supported legal same-sex marriage; the question was not asked in 2007.
Thacker added that his purpose with Affirmation “is to help people find a positive path forward in their lives.” With moves like today’s, he said, that path for LGBT people is more and more likely to be outside the LDS Church.