By Elizabeth Dias
New York Times News Service
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Thursday it would allow children of same-sex couples to be baptized, a reversal of church policy from one of the religious groups that has long been a bulwark against gay rights.
The decision rolls back a 2015 rule that had ripped apart congregations by declaring church members in same-sex marriages were apostates and subject to excommunication, and that children of same-sex couples were banned from rituals like baptisms and baby-naming ceremonies.
“While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline,” the First Presidency, which is the church’s highest governing body, said in a statement Thursday. “Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.”
The decision stops short of totally reversing the church’s policy that acting on same-sex attraction is sinful. It comes as the church, which has long been known as the Mormon Church, prepares for its general conference for all members this coming weekend.
Emotions among Latter-day Saints across the country were raw as the news broke. In Charlottesville, Virginia, Meredith Marshall Nelson was at her son’s violin lesson when her brother texted her the news. She began to cry in relief, and recalled how the weekend the 2015 policy was announced was the first time in her life she did not want to go to church.
“It felt so incongruous with the teachings of Jesus,” said Marshall Nelson, 33, who is the editor of the Mormon Women Project.
It is too early to tell whether or not this reversal may be enough to assuage church members who were angered and hurt by the 2015 decision, or enough to draw back those who have left the faith altogether. But it is another sign that the church under the leadership of its newest president, Russell M. Nelson, who was elected last year, is reconsidering its relationship with the broader American culture.
The decision comes nearly six months after Nelson said he had received a revelation that the church should no longer be referred to as “Mormon,” but by its full name. Many observers saw it as a sign the church aimed to align itself with mainstream American Christianity and not be sidelined as a marginal group.