On November 5, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that children of same-sex couples will not be eligible for blessing as infants, baptism at age eight, or preparation for missionary service without eventual consent from higher leaders, potentially including and up to the First Presidency. This comes on the same day that same-sex marriage was formally added to the definition of apostasy as found in Handbook 1.
According to Church spokesman Eric Hawkins, per an interview with KUTV, children of gay couples will only be eligible for baptism at age 18, and then through an extensive vetting process:
“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….The church has long been on record as opposing same-sex marriages. While it 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.”
Those with same-sex parents must “disavow” gay marriage and cease living in a household where gay marriage is sanctioned in order to be baptized. The policy mirrors that which has been in place for years on polygamy. The exact definition of “disavow” is murky, with some on the Internet arguing it means cutting ties with gay parents and others stating it involves decrying gay marriage but carrying on as usual with interpersonal relationships.
Church-owned KSL provided verbatim changes to the Handbook section 1.16.13:
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.
Hawkins confirmed the delay on baptism and missionary work in statements to media outlets. The policy takes effect immediately.
One potential interpretation of the rationale behind this is that if the Church accepts parental consent for children of gay couples to be baptized, it is tacitly accepting the same-sex union in the first place. But that’s just conjecture.
Another common assertion I’ve seen on Facebook over the past twelve hours is that allowing minors with gay parents to be baptized is “setting them up for failure” – that the child will be exposed to false principles and lifestyles, but too young to know any better, and will inevitably renege on or break baptismal covenants.
Also, it is extremely difficult for minors to disassociate themselves from the situation in question, hence the need to wait until they are 18.
Lastly, there’s no mention of children who might live with a gay sibling. Presumably, that gay sibling of straight parents is not setting the overall tenor in the family, but one still cannot help but wonder if there’s potential for that to become an issue.
As for other Handbook changes, LDS Church members in a gay relationship are considered to be engaging in apostasy.
However, a few other definitions of apostasy were tweaked, including a broadening of the definition of apostasy for those who join another church. According to KUTV, the manual previously stated that anyone who joined another church was apostate. Now the language says that those members must also “advocate its teachings” to meet the definition of apostasy.
What we don’t know is how the process went to make these changes. Undoubtedly, the Brethren spent copious amounts of time weighing various possibilities. We don’t understand everything, and even if you are upset by this, remember that there’s often more to a situation than we realize. Will we receive great clarification from the Brethren? History tells me probably not. We tend to push things out quietly and let the PR office handle fallout, then move along. But we can still hope for further illumination.
That said, don’t jump ship. Don’t resign. Don’t be reactionary (something I need to tell myself). And on the flipside, for those who are fine with the change, be sensitive to those who are struggling with it. Let us not become “-ites.”