New Mormon policy makes apostates of married same-sex couples, bars children from rites

Apostasy change subjects Mormons in same-sex unions to likely excommunication; their children may be barred from blessings and baptisms.

The Salt Lake Tribune/November 5, 2015

By Jennifer Dobner

Mormons who enter into same-sex unions will be considered apostates under new church policies, and their children will be barred from blessing and baptism rituals without the permission of the faith's highest leaders.

The policies are part of "Handbook 1," a guide for lay leaders of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The changes were leaked to the public via social media Thursday.

Mormon blogger and podcaster John Dehlin, who was excommunicated from the church earlier this year, posted the documents on Facebook, triggering strong, sometimes angry responses — including "outrageous," "repulsive" and "anti-family" — from people in and out of the church. Dehlin, of Logan, called the policies "harmful" and stunning, given recent efforts by the LDS Church to build bridges with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

"It's just totally surprising," he said. "This is a level of retrenchment that I don't think anybody could have envisioned."

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins confirmed the documents were accurate, but he did not answer questions about the policies beyond stating that the church has a longstanding policy against gay marriage.

"While [the church] 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," Hawkins said in a written statement.

In a statement. Troy Williams — the executive director of Equality Utah, which worked alongside church leaders to pass Utah's nondiscrimination law to protect the LGBT community and religious freedom — said that all churches have the right to "welcome or exclude" whomever they choose.

"We know that children of same-sex parents are treasures of infinite worth," said Williams, who grew up Mormon. "In our universe, all God's children have a place in the choir."

Under LDS Church doctrine, marriage is considered an institution created by God that can only occur between one man and one woman. Mormon leaders have been politically active in efforts to ban gay marriage across the U.S. since the 1990s. They lobbied Congress for a constitutional amendment to protect marriage between one man and one woman in 2004.

Even so, church leaders have said members are allowed to support same-sex marriage.

Under the new church policy, people in "same-gender" marriage have been added to the list of those acts that are considered apostasy and would be subject to disciplinary action.

Historically, the church has excommunicated some members who have acted on their same-sex attractions.

However, "before today it's never been defined in the handbook as apostasy," Dehlin said.

As for children, a separate section of the handbook says that natural or adopted kids of same-sex parents, whether married or just living together, may not receive a naming blessing.

The policy also bars children from being baptized, confirmed, ordained to the church priesthood or recommended for missionary service without the permission of the faith's highest leaders — the First Presidency.

To get that permission, the policy states that a request must be made through a mission president or a regional church leader, and only after two requirements are met. Those requirements are that a child is committed to living church doctrine and "specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage," is 18 "and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage."

Nick Literski, a gay man from Seattle who left the church after coming out in 2006, said the policy will directly affect his relationship with his children. The youngest, a 17-year-old girl who lives in Illinois with her mother, is already preparing for the mission she hopes to serve when she reached age 19.

That may be impossible now, said Literski.

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