The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Thursday the rollback of a 2015 policy which restricted baptism of children of gay couples and called them apostates.
Now, children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender may be baptized. Also, same-sex couples will no longer be considered apostates — those who have abandoned their faith — in terms of church discipline.
Instead, same-sex couples will now be viewed by the church as committing a serious sin, to “be treated in the same way” as immoral conduct in a heterosexual marriage, according to the announcement.
The newly announced policy, which comes ahead of this weekend’s bi-annual General Conference, is a reversal of an earlier position which said LGBT parents needed approval from the highest level of the church for baptism of their children.
Troy Williams, the executive director of civil rights group Equality Utah says the reversal was unexpected.
He and others were jubilant this week because Gov. Gary Herbert signed legislation into law that toughens penalties for hate crimes, giving LGBTQ people the same protections as other groups.
They didn’t expect to be celebrating again, just few days later.
The church’s policy change reverses course on a controversial 2015 policy concerning same-sex couples.
Williams said the policy introduced four years ago “was devastating.”
“I remember walking out into the rain and I just cried,” he said.
Now, children of LGBT parents — whether they are church members or not — can be blessed and, once they turn 8, possibly baptized, if parents give permission and understand both the doctrine and the covenants.
Williams, who is gay and has left the LDS church, says it’s time to reevaluate.
“I think we can take a step back from this culture war that has harmed our state, harmed our families and, in many instances, has harmed peoples’ lives,” he said. “I hope this policy change will help families come back together.”
Jordan Sgro, who also grew up as a member of the church, said the changes are positive, but she wishes the church would apologize for excluding LGBTQ members.
“I mean we’ve seen countless lives lost, countless families fall apart into pieces because of this policy,” said Sgro.
Still, Sgro, who works for Encircle, a group that provides counseling for LGBTQ youth in Utah, says the changes make her and her wife, with whom she plans to have and raise children in Utah, hopeful. She recalled a conversation she had with her wife after the news became public earlier Thursday.
“She said … ‘Maybe it will be easier for our kids when they’re growing up with two moms in a very conservative area because other kids won’t call them apostate,’” Sgro said.
President Dallin H. Oaks announced the policy changes on the LDS church website, saying the changes were effective immediately.
The new policies were characterized on the church website as an effort to “reduce the hate and contention so common today.”
The announcement said new policies are being sent to priesthood leaders worldwide and will be included in online updates to the Church Handbook for leaders.
Church officials emphasized that the changes do not represent a shift in church doctrine related to marriage or the commandments of God in regard to chastity and morality. The announcement said the doctrine of the plan of salvation and the importance of chastity will not change.
In its online statement the church said it hopes the switch will help members to “show more understanding, compassion and love” and to “increase respect.”
Updated at 11:20 p.m.