Children of LGBTQ parents can now be baptized in the Mormon tradition, and the marriage of LGBTQ partners is no longer considered an apostasy, according to a new policy announced this week by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Apostasy is the renunciation of religious belief.) For people unfamiliar with the LDS Church, the news may sound like a bold, progressive step; in fact, it is more of a correction of recent anti-LGBTQ policies that put the church at odds with a significant proportion of its members.
To understand the news, we have to look back a few years. In 2015, the LDS Church issued a new policy that characterized same-sex partnerships as apostasy, which essentially resulted in the excommunication of these church members. “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,” the LDS explained in a statement at the time. The policy also banned the biological or adopted children of same-sex couples from being baptized in the church, unless at the age of 18 they were willing to break from and shun their parents on behalf of their sexuality. In response to the policies, over 1,000 members of the congregation left the church in protest.
The initial anti-LGBTQ policy was described as a revelation from God. This week, the LDS Church also claimed that the decision to reverse the 2015 policy change was in response to a revelation. Steve Evans, a Mormon blogger, told the Washington Post that this has created confusion for some church members. “People who supported it are saying, was it from God? If it was from God, why are you rolling it back? Other people are saying, we knew it wasn’t from God. Does it call into question the church’s claims to divine authority because of the reversal? Maybe it points us to a leadership that isn’t infallible.”
Matthew Bowman, a historian who has been covering the LDS Church, highlighted to the Salt Lake Tribune the speed of the reversal of anti-LGBTQ policy. “Generally, church policies are changed much more slowly and often, when they do change, there is not this sort of announcement.” Bowman suggested that the relatively swift turnaround “reflects the turbulence that this policy and its implementation created among members, as well as among bishops and stake presidents.”
The Post cited a survey that found that Mormons have grown increasingly accepting of homosexuality in recent years. The proportion of Mormons who felt that society should accept LGBTQ beliefs rose from a quarter of survey respondents in 2007 to just over a third by 2014. Despite the move toward acceptance, the latest policy emphasized that the LDS Church still considers marriage between LGBTQ partners to be a “serious transgression,” explaining in a statement, “[The] immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way. These changes do not represent a shift in Church doctrine related to marriage or the commandments of God in regard to chastity and morality.” In other words, any marriage between non-heterosexual partners is an immoral act and deserves to be treated as such.
Despite clear issues with the LDS Church and LGBTQ alliance, a representative from The Trevor Project praised the latest policy in an interview with NPR. “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.”