Ahead of a churchwide weekend conference, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Thursday announced changes to two controversial policies affecting LGBTQ church members and their families.
In a news release, the church said it would allow children of LGBTQ parents to be baptized and blessed in the church. It will also update its handbook to no longer categorize same-sex marriage as an act of apostasy, or abandonment of the church and its values.
According to the release, church President Dallin H. Oaks said the changes will be effective immediately. Previously, the church faced backlash after enacting a policy barring children of LGBTQ parents from joining the church until they turn 18 and leave their parents’ home.
“At the direction of the First Presidency, President Oaks shared that ... 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 said.
Nonmember LGBTQ parents can also request that their baby be blessed, the release said. Church members will periodically check in on the child until they reach 8 years old, when children in the church choose whether they want to be baptized.
The church also slightly relaxed its stance on same-sex marriage, no longer considering such unions to be a rejection of the church. However, according to the release, same-sex marriage is still not sanctioned by the church.
“While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline,” the release said. “Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.”
The announcements come days before the church’s General Conference, a weekend-long event in which church leaders and prophets “give counsel and direction,” according to lds.org, and often announce changes to church policies.
The church has altered its teachings on LGBTQ relationships in recent years, saying it no longer considers same-sex attraction a sin, but urging members not to act on their feelings. It also launched a “Mormon and Gay” page on its website with stories about LGBTQ church members and FAQs for those questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Still, some church members, including a group of Idaho and Utah mothers of LGBTQ children, have campaigned for more acceptance.
“We have this idea that LGBTQ people are over here and Mormon people are over here,” Jen Blair, a member of the Twin Falls Mama Dragons group told the Times-News earlier this year. “There is a lot of trepidation on this subject. It’s hard to get people to go to events without official endorsement from the church.”
In its Thursday statement, the church said it believes the rule change will be a positive move for “affected families.”
“... Our members’ efforts to show more understanding, compassion and love should increase respect and understanding among all people of goodwill,” the release said. “We want to reduce the hate and contention so common today. We are optimistic that a majority of people — whatever their beliefs and orientations — long for better understanding and less contentious communications. That is surely our desire, and we seek the help of our members and others to attain it.”
The Trevor Project, an organization that focuses on suicide prevention and crisis intervention in the LGBTQ community, praised the 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, the group’s head of advocacy and governmental affairs, in a statement. “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.”