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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints -- known informally as the Mormon Church -- has backtracked on some of its anti-LGBTQ policies, while remaining opposed to same-sex relationships.
The church will no longer bar most children of LGBTQ parents from receiving baptism, and while it still considers same-sex marriages sinful, it will not classify them as apostasy -- a rejection of church teachings that could result in excommunication. It had announced the baptism ban and the apostasy classification in 2015, to the outrage of many LGBTQ people and their allies, from within the church and elsewhere.
The reversal's announcement came Thursday at the denomination's General Conference in Salt Lake City, at which leaders cited continuing revelation from God. There was also a news release posted on the church's website.
"Effective immediately, children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender may be baptized without First Presidency approval if the custodial parents give permission for the baptism and understand both the doctrine that a baptized child will be taught and the covenants he or she will be expected to make," the news release reads.
The First Presidency is the church's highest governing body.
Under the 2015 policy, children whose primary residence was with a same-sex couple could not be baptized until they reached age 18, and then only if they stopped living with their parents and stated their opposition to same-sex relationships.
A same-sex marriage will still be considered "a serious transgression" but "will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline," the release notes. This means "immoral conduct" in both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships will be treated in the same way, LDS officials say. The church teaches that sexual relations are reserved for heterosexual marriage. Attraction to members of the same sex is not considered a sin, but acting on it is.
"The very positive policies announced this morning should help affected families," Dallin H. Oaks, president of the church, said at the General Conference, according to Salt Lake City's Deseret News.
"In addition, our members' efforts to show more understanding, compassion, and love should increase respect and understanding among all people of goodwilll," Oaks continued. "We are optimistic that a majority of people -- whatever their beliefs and orientations -- long for better understanding and less contentious communications."
However, less than a year ago, Oaks uttered some words that did not show goodwill toward LGBTQ people.
At a conference in October, he said, "Our knowledge of God's revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose many of the current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage or to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women."
Those pressures, he said, come from Satan.
Some activists have blamed the LDS Church's policies for a spike in suicides among LGBTQ youth in heavily Mormon parts of the U.S., especially Utah.
While the church still opposes same-sex relationships and gender transition, advocates for LGBTQ equality saw the policies announced today as a step forward.
"As an organization that has long pushed for faith communities to be places where everyone is welcome and no one is made to feel that their orientation or gender identity is sinful, we welcome this decision by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints," said Jane Clementi, cofounder and CEO of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, in a press release. "It is good to see the LDS Church beginning to repair the harm it has done in the past to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people in its tradition by welcoming them back into ritual."
"We hope that this is the first step in a longer journey to end faith-based bullying of LGBTQ people and ensure that church is a place that provides community and gives life, rather than exclusion and isolation." Clementi, who is not Mormon but once attended another church that considered homosexuality a sin, lost her son Tyler to suicide in 2010, after he suffered cyberbullying for being gay.
The Trevor Project, the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people, also released a statement in support of today's move.
"The Trevor Project welcomes any faith group's public commitment to treat the LGBTQ community fairly and equally, and this statement by the LDS Church to change course is a move in the right direction that will make a real difference in the lives of LGBTQ Mormons," said Sam Brinton, Trevor's head of advocacy and government affairs.
"We hear from LGBTQ young people in crisis every day who struggle to reconcile being part of both the LGBTQ and faith communities, and decisions to end policies of exclusion can help LGBTQ youth feel seen, loved, and less alone," Brinton continued.