On November 5, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints quietly changed a handbook that is available only to Church leaders. The changes stipulated that any Mormons in same-sex marriages were to be considered apostates, which would likely result in their excommunication. In addition, their minor children were to be denied naming blessings, baptism, confirmation, and priesthood ordinations, typically universal for adolescent males. When the new policies were leaked, there was an immediate outcry from Latter-day Saints on social media, including those who accept the Church’s categorization of homosexual behavior as sin, but who nevertheless feel the new rules punished children for their parents’ choices. On November 6, a member of the Twelve Apostles, one of the governing bodies in the Church, gave a hastily arranged interview to explain the changes to the faithful, noting that the new policies followed the precedent of dealing with polygamists, and that the intent was to protect minor children from religious conflict in their homes.
This announcement stands in contrast with the way the Church approached same-sex marriage as recently as last June. After the Supreme Court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage, the First Presidency sent a letter to all local Church leaders in the United States reiterating the Church’s position that while same-sex marriage was now legal, it was still prohibited for Latter-day Saints. Mormon bishops were forbidden to perform such marriages or allow Church facilities to be used for same-sex weddings or receptions. Leaders were instructed to read the letter to all adults and teenagers in Sunday meetings, and because the letter was in line with what most Mormons already believed, it was taken in stride.
Not so this time. Many Church members pointed out that Mormon children are often raised by parents who don’t keep LDS standards at home, and that many of those affected by the new policies would be children in joint custody situations. So LDS leaders hedged: The First Presidency responded in a statement on November 13, indicating that the rules would only be applied to families in which the same-sex parents were the primary caregivers, and thus would apply to far fewer children.