The face of Utah politics is changing. Salt Lake City just elected its first lesbian mayor to officei, indicative of a major shift in political consciousness for Utah’s largest city. Salt Lake City is also home to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), or the LDS Church. From the Church’s support for Prop 8, the California anti-marriage equality ballot referendum in 2008, to their recent push for a religious exception to state anti-discrimination legislationii, it has been clear for many years that the LDS Church leadership is antagonistic toward LGBTQIA relationships. Many have remained hopeful that the Church will someday ease toward a more progressive stance, but a Church policy change illustrates that what was once a faint hope is now becoming a near-impossibility.
On November 5th, it was leaked to the press that the LDS Church would no longer allow children of parents in same-sex relationships to be baptized at the age of eight, when other LDS children are eligible for baptism. Instead, these children must wait until they are 18, and are only then allowed to be baptized if they disavow same-sex relationships, are not living with a parent in a same-sex relationship, and are approved for baptism by the First Presidency, the presiding body of the LDS Church. Additionally, it is now mandated that anyone in a same-sex marriage be brought to a disciplinary hearing where they will be charged with apostasy – grounds for excommunication from the Church – while it “may be necessary” to hold disciplinary hearings for cohabitating same-sex couples. These changes were made to the LDS Handbook of Instruction 1, a rulebook distributed to the lay clergy of the Churchiii. By comparison, it also “may be necessary,” but not mandatory, for a person who abuses someone else to be brought to a disciplinary hearingiv.
Since the unveiling of this policy change, an unprecedented number of people have resigned from the LDS Church. More than 1,500 people resigned at a mass event on Saturday, November 14v. Resignation strikes one’s name from the records of the Church, invalidating, according to LDS belief, the saving ordinances someone has participated in up to that point. LDS belief stipulates that such ordinances are required to obtain exaltation, or a degree of heaven where one can become a god. As such, resigning from the LDS faith is not undertaken lightly—active members believe that such resignation is a catalyst for a spiritual death.
At a rally held in Salt Lake City on Sunday, November 8, to protest the policy, stories of how individuals have been impacted by this policy change were shared by a number of peoplevi. One person explained how their brother’s ability to serve a mission – a rite of passage for many 18- and 19-year-old Mormon young men – came into question because of his sexuality. Another individual shared, through tears, how his children are not going to be allowed to be baptized because he is in a same-sex relationship, despite them living with their active LDS mother. The implementation of this new policy is affecting people across a spectrum of activity and belief in the LDS faith.
This is not just a policy change; this is a political statement. Although the aging leadership of the LDS Church has been criticized for being “out of touch”vii with the lives of younger members, they are too politically adept to not understand the individual ramifications of this policy. The LDS oligarchy is making children pawns in its attack on the LGBTQIA laypeople within its grasp. Whatever the rationale given, this new policy is undoubtedly yet another injustice inflicted on the LGBTQIA community.
We cannot afford to call discrimination anything other than discrimination, however benign the incident may seem. It’s time to say, “Enough,” and stand in solidarity with LGBTQIA people and their families, regardless of religious background or political leanings. It’s time to step up and preserve the dignity and humanity of the people whose pleas are going unnoticed and unaddressed by the leaders of the LDS Church.