Under the new policy, LDS teachings on same-sex relationships and transgender identity haven’t changed, but the language around them has shifted. Married LGBTQ Mormons are no longer automatically labeled apostates, and they are put on slightly more even footing with straight couples: “Immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way,” Oaks wrote in the announcement. Children living with these couples can be baptized, as long as parents know that they will be taught that LGBTQ relationships are wrong.
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The new policy will create space for LGBTQ Mormons and their families to engage more comfortably in their Church communities, and many hope it means they will find greater welcome there. The former policy “caused a lot of pain and turmoil to people that I love,” Christofferson said. “I know a number of folks for whom that was a breaking point.” Although Christofferson openly identifies as gay and left the Church for a number of years while he was in a relationship with another man, he has since rejoined the Church. For other LGBTQ Mormons, “my hope is, now that [the policy has] changed, they will consider rejoining and worshipping with us and help us to keep moving forward,” he said. For many current and former Mormons, however, the consequences of the 2015 policy cannot be undone. Their relationships—with the Church, with their families, and with God—have been irreparably damaged.
LDS leaders consider both the 2015 policy and Thursday’s new policy to be matters of revelation, even though one effectively reverses the other. “The public by and large, and Mormons in particular, tend to think of revelation in very dramatic, charismatic ways,” says Terryl Givens, a Mormon historian at the University of Richmond. “In the founding days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, revelation often was spectacular and involved visions, visitations, audible voices that Joseph Smith [the founder of the Church] heard.”
But as this new announcement demonstrates, Church leaders clearly heard the objections from LDS community members. In a living faith tradition like Mormonism, relationships—between neighbors, relatives, or, say, a gay Mormon and his brother in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—have the power to shape the context of revelation. “The historical record would suggest that [Church leaders] are open to concerns, to historical developments, to scholarly input,” Givens said. “Revelation never occurs in a vacuum.”
Even with this new policy change, LGBTQ Mormons occupy a fraught space in LDS life. Those in same-sex relationships, or who have gone through a gender transition, live with the knowledge that their choices are condemned by Church teachings. And for LGBTQ believers, the theological consequences of their sexuality and identity are serious: Mormons teach that families can be bound together for eternity, and LGBTQ families are not included in that vision. Although the LDS Church has tried, in its way, to welcome LGBTQ Mormons, this core theological teaching is not likely to change. “For Latter-day Saints, it was not just a matter of sociological debates as to the merits or demerits of gender transformation,” Givens said. “The point that is nonnegotiable for Latter-day Saints is that gender is eternal.”