The Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) took formal steps this week to define marriage equality as a form of apostasy in its “Handbook of Instructions,” a guide for Mormon leaders that was leaked on social media.

"Church handbooks are policy and procedural guides for lay leaders who must administer the Church in many varied circumstances throughout the world. The Church has long been on record as opposing same-sex marriages,” LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins wrote in a statement Thursday to 2News. “While it respects the law of the land, and acknowledges the right of others to think and act differently, it does not perform or accept same-sex marriage within its membership.”

The policy not only describes Mormons in same-sex couples as apostates of the faith, it also establishes disciplinary actions that Mormon leaders can take against same-sex couples, including excommunication.

According to the “Handbook,” approved for immediate implementation by the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the relationships of Mormons in same-sex couples are now characterized as “Serious Transgressions,” putting LGBT people on par with those who commit murder, rape, sexual abuse, spousal abuse or intentionally cause serious physical harm to others, as well as those who engage in adultery, fornication or abandon their family responsibilities.

A statement released by Affirmation, an organization of LGBTQ and allied Mormons, called the changes in policy “a difficult event to witness.”

The new policy also took aim at the children of same-sex couples. It barred them from baptism and from joining the Mormon Church unless they denounce their parents by the age of 18. This new policy marks the first time a Christian church has enshrined a baptismal ban on children of same-sex couples.

Diane Oviatt, a board member of Mama Dragons, a group of devoted Mormon mothers of LGBT children that works for acceptance of LGBT teens and adult children, said, “We are profoundly saddened and disillusioned by the church's clarification of their stance.” Forcing children to disavow the love of their parents is “perhaps the most painful part of this difficult news today,” Oviatt said. “It feels positively medieval, unequivocally wrong, and in our estimation stands to push more people out of the church and tear apart families.”

The LDS hierarchy has a long history of disciplining individual members for questioning church teaching. The church acknowledged in the early 1990s that it maintains files on those believed to be conducting themselves in a way contrary to church teachings, leading many members who support LGBT equality to only do so privately.

Codifying opposition of marriage equality and devaluing the lives of same-sex couples coincides with a recent report released by Pew Research, that reveals 36 percent of Mormons said they agree with the statement, “homosexuality should be accepted by society,” a 12 percent increase from 2007.

The new policy does not mention gender identity; the LDS Church has no official policy regarding gender identity and expression. The LGBT community stands together in working to end exclusion and discrimination that attempts to undermine our families.

Filed under: Religion & Faith

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