LGBT

Hundreds Leave Mormon Church Despite Clarification On Anti-Gay Baptism Policy

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Several hundred Mormons followed through on their promise to resign from the Church of Latter-Day Saints on Saturday in protest of Church leaders’ latest anti-gay policies. A new rule introduced this month declared that married same-sex couples were apostates of the Church and that their children could not be blessed or baptized until they are 18 — and only if they renounce same-sex marriage.

On Friday, LDS Church leaders attempted to tweak the policy in advance of the protest. They clarified that the policy only applies to children whose “primary residence” is with same-sex parents. If, for example, they only visit a parent in a same-sex relationship on weekends, they can still receive the same various blessings as other Mormon youth. The policy is also not retroactive to children who were already baptized but now live with same-sex parents.

“All children are to be treated with utmost respect and love,” the clarification letter asserted, offering that “All children may receive priesthood blessings of healing and spiritual guidance.”

Extra guidance issued about the Church’s Handbook change reminded, “It is not a sin simply to feel attraction to another person of the same sex.” However, “There is no change in the doctrinal position that sexual relations between people of the same sex are sinful.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Friday’s clarifications did little to dissuade the hundreds who gathered Saturday in a Salt Lake City park to have their resignations notarized. Reports suggest there were as many as 1,500 resignations collected this weekend, but it follows several other mass resignations that have taken place over the past few years.

For example, in June of 2012, a group of about 150 Mormons resigned over the Church’s positions on marriage. In July of 2014, another 500 or so resigned, issuing an open letter demanding more transparency from the Church.

In recent years, the Mormon Church has tried to distance itself from the reputation of intolerance it earned advocating for California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in 2008. In 2012, LDS launched the website MormonsAndGays.org, which attempted to spin the Church’s rejection of homosexuality in a more loving light, acknowledging for the first time that homosexuality was not a choice nor a disease.

Earlier this year, the Church issued a statement claiming to support nondiscrimination protections for the LGBT community, with the caveat that religious liberty protections be included — protections the Church did not clarify. Ultimately the Church endorsed a bill to create statewide LGBT protections in Utah, but only because they contained exemptions broad enough to allow all LDS entities to still discriminate. LGBT activists only supported the “Utah compromise” because such religious exemptions exist for all protected groups in Utah, so exemptions for sexual orientation and gender identity didn’t make the LGBT protections any weaker than for other groups.

Leaving LDS is not a decision made lightly, particularly because of how it can sever families. As protest participant Brooke Swallow told Reuters, “It is difficult for people to leave the Church. It takes people a long time to make this decision. It is a well-thought-out one and it is not taken lightly.”

The website Mormon No More provides guidance about the process of leaving the Church, and a number of resources like Ex-Mormon.org provide resources and support for people who have left. The group Affirmation specifically supports LGBT Mormons and their friends and families.

One recent resignation in particular received quite a lot of visibility because comedian Lewis Black read the 18-year-old’s “rant” against the Church at a show last week. The teenager has since been identified as Trevor Sepulvida, and he submitted his resignation the day he turned 18 earlier this month. Watch Black’s reading:

LDS attempted to downplay the protest, claiming that only 4 percent of those who pledged to resign identified as practicing Mormons.