A much-needed clarification of the new policies surrounding same-sex couples and children being raised by same-sex parents was issued by the First Presidency of the LDS Church today. I will post a few excerpts from the letter and offer my own views. Let me begin by stating that, while I still have concerns regarding the new policies, I am thankful for the tone that was taken in the clarification letter:
“Revealed doctrine is clear that families are eternal in nature and purpose. We are obligated to act with that perspective for the welfare of both adults and children. The newly added Handbook provisions affirm that adults who choose to enter into a same-gender marriage or similar relationship commit sin that warrants a Church disciplinary council.”
As I stated in my post responding to the initial news, while I personally support same-sex marriage as a legal right, I also support the right of religious institutions to define their sacraments according to their creeds. Within the LDS Church (as well as many others), marriage is considered a “sacrament,” in that it is a religious union. Among most conservative religious traditions, that union is exclusive to one man and one woman (don’t get me started about continued plural sealing practices in the LDS Church). As same-sex marriage is now a legal right in the United States, I have to ask if the response to excommunicate legally-married same-sex couples is the right move? It seems draconian. Perhaps not offering full-fellowship would be sufficient (IE. taking of the sacrament, participating in ordinances, serving in callings, attending temples, etc.)? However, I suppose that silencing same-sex couples and trying to make them “invisible” within congregations (or worse: shamed) is only one step away from excommunication—and, quite frankly, a miserable way to worship. Perhaps “divorcing” itself from same-sex couples is, sadly, the cleanest resolution. Still, it is disheartening to see the church retrench further into social conservatism, particularly when other religious organizations (including our cousins in the Community of Christ) have been seeking for ways to be inclusive of same-sex couples and families.
“Our concern with respect to children is their current and future well-being and the harmony of their home environment. The provisions of Handbook 1, Section 16.13, that restrict priesthood ordinances for minors, apply only to those children whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship. As always, local leaders may request further guidance in particular instances when they have questions.”
Firstly, this is a huge relief. My (and many others) biggest concern with the new policies is the effect that they might have in shared-custody situations where the child is being raised by a straight parent in the LDS Church. The sudden ostracism that could ensue seemed egregious and unnecessary. Again, I am thankful for this clarification, despite the sadness that I still have for children who will be excluded from the sacraments of Mormonism because their parents are gay. The First Presidency is insisting that this is for the child’s benefit and “the harmony of their home environment,” but many have pointed out that there are a myriad of reasons beyond same-sex parenting where disharmony between the home environment and what the church teaches may exist. I am also grateful that some latitude is given to local leaders in dealing with individual cases.
“When a child living with such a same-gender couple has already been baptized and is actively participating in the Church, provisions of Section 16.13 do not require that his or her membership activities or priesthood privileges be curtailed or that further ordinances be withheld. Decisions about any future ordinances for such children should be made by local leaders with their prime consideration being the preparation and best interests of the child.”
This is, perhaps, the best news of all. I am glad that this will not be a retroactive policy for children, but it does leave the question on how this will affect their parents. If a child in a same-sex family has already received baptism, will his or her parents still face excommunication? This seems like a particularly painful situation for both families and local leaders to be in. I hope that this is covered under the “request[ing] further guidance” provision, and that local leaders will do everything in their power to minimize pain and confusion.
Overall, the clarifications are what I was hoping for. I am not expecting the LDS Church to reconsider its position on same-sex marriage (as much as I wish otherwise). The Latter-day Saints are on the conservative side of Mormonism—and the church has reemphasized with these policies what they have long stated: same-sex marriage has no place in the LDS Church. I only hope that those of us who support same-sex marriage and families still do. My biggest concern, however, is for Latter-day Saint children, young adults, and adults who experience same-sex attraction. The message is clear: the only way you will remain welcome in our community is if you adopt a celibate lifestyle or marry the opposite-sex and remain silent about your orientation (which we do not counsel). Not only is this message increasingly unpopular among those in the rising generation, but it is also dangerous.