When word leaked Thursday that new policies from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would declare people in same-sex marriages “apostates” and bar their children from taking part in the rites of the church, many observers expressed surprise. To be sure, the Mormon church has long opposed expressions of same-sex attraction from its members, even excommunicating openly LGBT members. It also raised at least $14 million in support of California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in that state. But earlier this year, we saw welcome signs that church policy was evolving. One of the highest-ranking members of the Mormon hierarchy signaled new openness on transgender issues, and the church backed an LGBT nondiscrimination law for Utah—albeit one with a worrisomely broad carve-out for “religious freedoms.” (Utah also seems to be changing: This week, Salt Lake City probably elected an openly gay mayor.)
However, the church’s new policies are harsher than ever. Although some gay Mormons have been excommunicated in the past, being in a same-sex relationship was not previously on the official list of acts that are considered “apostasy” and thus grounds for disciplinary action. That will now change.
Of course, religious denominations are at liberty to make their doctrine as inclusive or exclusionary as they please. Nevertheless, the Mormon church is extremely PR-savvy and was apparently chastened by the negative reaction to its Prop 8 fund-raising and organizing. This perhaps explains the softening of the church’s opposition to civil rights for LGBT Utahns—as long as they didn’t affect the church’s freedom to set anti-gay policies for its own adherents.
Still, it’s hard not to be shocked by the church’s unsympathetic attitude toward the children of same-sex couples. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the new policy bars them “from being baptized, confirmed, ordained to the church priesthood or recommended for missionary service without the permission of the faith's highest leaders.” (It should be noted that baptism is considered essential for salvation in the Mormon faith, so refusing baptism is a very serious penalty.) Such permission would only be granted if the child moves out of the home of the parent in a same-sex relationship and “specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.” As a gentile, it isn’t my place to criticize Mormon doctrine. But as a human, it’s hard to understand why any denomination would feel the need to use its spiritual influence to encourage children to reject their parents.