On November 5, 2015, the LDS Church released a new version of its Handbook 1, the administrative handbook that is reserved exclusively for use by stake presidents, bishops, and other church leaders. It is not publicly accessible or available. Several revisions to the handbook pertain to same-sex couples and their families.
One of the most commented changes in the policies of the Church have to do with the children of same-sex couples. The Church has now barred any minor children of same-sex couples from receiving a baby blessing, name, or baptism within the church. Here is the specific language of the changes:
Children of a Parent Living in a Same-Gender Relationship
A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing.
A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may be baptized and confirmed, ordained, or recommended for missionary service only as follows:
A mission president or a stake president may request approval from the Office of the First Presidency to baptize and confirm, ordain, or recommend missionary service for a child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship when he is satisfied by personal interviews that both of the following requirements are met:
- The child accepts and is committed to live the teachings and doctrine of the Church, and specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.
- The child is of legal age and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.
Most of the shock since the announcement of these changes has centered around these new policies regarding the children, and how they are disallowed from receiving a baby blessing, name, or baptism in the church, and subsequent ordinances.
But there is another change specifically regarding those who are in a same-sex relationship:
When a Disciplinary Council May Be Necessary
. . . It includes (but is not limited to) attempted murder, forcible rape, sexual abuse, spouse abuse, intentional serious physical injury of others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations (especially sexual cohabitation), deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, . . .
When a Disciplinary Council is Mandatory Apostasy
As used here, apostasy refers to members who:
- Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.
- Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
- Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
- Are in a same-gender marriage.
- Formally join another church and advocate its teachings
The new changes state that a disciplinary council may be necessary for those in a homosexual relationship, almost certainly for those cohabitating), but it is now required to have a disciplinary council for those in a same-sex marriage. This is because same-sex marriage has been added to the list of things that are regarded as “apostasy.”
What is curious is how the Church is going to manage this new classification of same-sex marriage being classified as apostasy. In an interview posted on November 6, 2015 on the Church’s newsroom website, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the following:
The Church, of course, doesn’t attempt to practice mind control, and people have varying opinions. It’s only a problem if there’s advocacy, and people lobby and advocate against the standard, and the very clear and expressed position of the Church.
This makes it sound that advocating or lobbying for same-sex marriage is a problem for members of the Church. And yet, in an article in the Deseret News it notes:
Elder Christofferson and other church leaders have said repeatedly that Mormons may express political support for same-sex marriage without consequence to their church membership. The updated policy does not alter that.
So which is it? How does one express political support for same-sex marriage, without advocating or lobbying for same-sex marriage? Perhaps members can support it politically as long as they don’t lobby and advocate for a change in Church policy? There seems to be an ambiguity and vagueness here. Same-sex marriage is now regarded strictly as apostasy, even as a heinous sin, so supporting it, lobbying for it, even if it is not advocating for a change in Church policy, would seem to run contrary to things such as the temple recommend interview questions:
Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Notice that this is support for anything, whether inside or outside the church, that is contrary to or in opposition to the teachings of the Church. Any political stance or group that supports same-sex marriage is teaching and practicing things that are now regarded by the Church explicitly as apostasy, even if before it was regarded as sin. It seems that the Church’s vague stance on allowing members to express political support for same-sex marriage without consequence to their church membership may now mean that they can do those things and remain a member of the Church, but they will not be allowed to have a temple recommend. How can advocacy for something that is now considered apostasy not be supporting, affiliating with, or agreeing with a group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church? Can one support, affiliate with, or agree with those in polygamous marriages or with polygamous groups or advocacy groups without such a consequence? I don’t think so. And now, same-sex marriage has been placed into that same category. If same-sex marriage is so much like polygamous marriage, will the Church begin to support polygamous groups in their rights and legal protections regarding housing and employment? Not likely.
It seems like this will be the next domino to fall, and soon, in the Church’s opposition to same-sex relationships: any member of the Church that supports same-sex marriage in any way will be barred from the Church’s temples and temple ordinances. Not to mention that those Church members who are currently in civil same-sex marriages will now be required to have a disciplinary council, and very likely if they are not divorced and stop living together will be excommunicated from the Church for apostasy. Those who are not married, but living together and who do not separate, will also likely be excommunicated. And, most disturbing, children of same-sex couples will not be allowed to become members of the Church at all. I wonder how those children who are already Church members will be treated when their parents are excommunicated and their peers in the same situation are not allowed to be baptized and receive other Church ordinances? How will that affect those children already in the Church? Children and teenagers will be divided into classes of those who were baptized “before the ban” who will receive all the Church blessings and ordinances, and those who are prohibited to receive any of that because their birthdays came “after the ban.” I can see this turning into an awful mess, and this ban will become a bane for the Church, similar to past discriminatory bans for classes of people based on their race, gender, or marriage practices. It should be remembered that many of those past bans have been reversed, their doctrines have been changed or revised, or although once practiced and then seemingly banned are still practiced surreptitiously in the Church today, unbeknownst to most members and outside people.
Do I doubt the Church’s policies on same-sex marriage? I do.