Children of same-sex couples will not be able to join the Mormon Church until they turn 18 — and only if they move out of their parents’ homes, disavow all same-sex relationships and receive approval from the church’s top leadership as part of a new policy adopted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In addition, Mormons in same-sex marriageswill be considered apostates and subject to excommunication, a more rigid approach than the church has taken in the past.
The new policies were contained in a handbook for lay leaders that was disseminated on Thursday to those who administer the church’s 30,000 congregations around the world. The church made no public announcement of the change, but it was leaked to the news media and confirmed by a church spokesman.
“The church has long been on record as opposing same-sex marriages,” the spokesman, Eric Hawkins, said in a statement. “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 handbook change, bishops and congregational leaders had more discretion in whether or how far to discipline Mormons in same-sex marriages. Now same-sex marriage has been added to a list of conditions considered apostasy, which means Mormons in same-sex marriages will be subject to disciplinary hearings that result in excommunication.
Some liberal Mormons expressed outrage online at the new policies. Jana Riess, a columnist with Religion News Service, said she was livid that children born to those living out of wedlock, as well as rapists and murderers, can be baptized and blessed, but not children of monogamous same-sex couples.
The handbook had already explained that a disciplinary council “may be necessary” for Mormons who engaged in “homosexual relations.” The new policy said a disciplinary council was “mandatory” for Mormons in “same-gender” marriages and “may be necessary” for same-sex couples who are cohabiting but not married.
Disciplinary councils are convened for Mormons accused of serious transgressions, including murder, rape, sexual abuse, adultery and apostasy. A disciplinary council is a formal church proceeding that can result in excommunication.
The church also added a section to its handbook that said that “natural or adopted” children of parents living in same-sex relationships (whether married or cohabiting) would not be blessed as babies or have a naming ceremony. These children are also excluded from baptism, which usually occurs at age 8, and from ordination into the priesthood, which Mormon males qualify for at age 12. The children also will not be recommended to serve as missionaries, which is a rite of passage for many Mormon youths.
Under the new rules, a child of a same-sex couple may join the church only after age 18 by meeting these conditions: He or she commits “to live the teachings and doctrine of the church and specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage”; does not live with a parent who is in a same-sex relationship; and receives approval from local church leaders and the church’s First Presidency — the uppermost leadership of the church.
John Dehlin, a gay rights advocate who is straight and wasexcommunicated earlier this year, said, “The inclusion of same-gender marriage as specific grounds for apostasy is surprising only because it really paints the church into a corner, and leaves them less room to slowly finesse a change over time.”
“Progressives were still holding out hope, but many feel that this closes the door on future change,” said Mr. Dehlin, the founder of Mormon Stories, a popular podcast and online gathering site for Mormons critical of their own faith. He predicted that the new policy would “trigger a huge round of excommunications for legally same-sex married Mormons.”