The Mormon Church has barred all children of same-sex couples from joining its ranks -- at least until they disavow their parents, the New York Times reported Friday. The decision came as part of a stricter policy included in a handbook the church sent Thursday to lay leaders who run its 30,000 congregations around the world.
Under the new policy, children of same-sex parents will be eligible to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints only after they turn 18, move out of their parents’ homes, disavow any relationship with their family and receive approval from the church’s top leadership. The church also said Mormons who obtain same-sex marriages will be subject to excommunication.
While there was no public announcement of the change, a church spokesman confirmed the policy to the New York Times.
“The church has long been on record as opposing same-sex marriages,” church 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.”
While the church has opposed same-sex marriage for a long time, bishops and congregational leaders previously had some discretion about whether and how much to discipline Mormons in same-sex marriages. With the new rules, the church has added same-sex marriage to its list of actions considered apostasy, meaning that Mormons found in same-sex marriages could be subject to disciplinary hearings and excommunication.
The church has reaffirmed its opposition to same-sex marriage in recent years, but in other ways, it has also grown more liberal. For instance, Mormon leaders broke from many other Christian churches when they did not stand behind Kentucky clerk Kim Davis for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“Office holders remain free to draw upon their personal beliefs and motivations and advocate their positions in the public square,” Dallin Oaks, a high-ranking apostle in the Mormon Church, told the New York Times last month. “But when acting as public officials, they are not free to apply personal convictions, religious or other, in place of the defined responsibilities of their public offices. All government officers should exercise their civil authority according to the principles and within the limits of civil government.”
In addition, church leaders helped to pass a Utah bill known as “the Utah compromise” earlier this year, which prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in housing and employment. The bill does protect the right of religious institutions to oppose same-sex relationships.
Not all Mormons were were happy about their church’s decision Friday. Some liberal members of the church have pushed for it to be more inclusive in recent years, and those people are likely to continue feeling uncomfortable about the new decision. Jana Riess, a columnist at the Religion News Service, wrote Friday that she was “livid” over the church’s decision. She pointed out that children born to unmarried parents, as well as parents who are rapists and murderers, can be baptized and blessed, but children of monogamous same-sex couples cannot.
“It’s heartbreaking for me to see my church drawing this line in the sand, which leaves faithful LGBT members with an impossible choice: they can either be excluded from lifelong love and companionship, or excluded from the blessings of the church,” she said.
Mormons have drawn attention for their policies against same-sex marriage and homosexuality in the past. A video featuring LGBT students at the Mormon college Brigham Young University went viral in 2012, as the students discussed their struggle to reconcile their sexuality with their faith.
BYU has said that gay students are welcome as long as they adhere to the school’s honor code , which prohibits “homosexual behavior.”