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Mormon church: Policy on same-sex families protects ‘harmony’

Brandon Clark, right, speaks as his family looks on during a rally and party in support of gay and lesbian families sponsored by the Utah Pride Center on Nov. 9 in Salt Lake City. Neither on of the Clark’s children will be able to be baptized into the Mormon Church because their gay parents were married. (George Frey/Getty Images)

Top Mormon leaders released a clarification Friday about the church’s new, controversial policy banning the baptism of children of gay couples, saying they are trying to protect “the harmony” of homes by excluding families whose basic structure contradicts church teaching.

The release of a “clarification” letter from the three-man governing body called The First Presidency is unlikely to stem the concern among LGBT Mormons and their advocates, and some Friday said it is more likely to fuel it. One longtime member of the church who has watched closely the debate about the place of gay Mormons said the policy announcement was more dramatic than the huge controversy that broke out in the late 2000s after the church led the fight for Proposition 8, a California ballot measure banning gay marriage.

“If Prop 8 was a line in the sand, this is the Berlin Wall,” said the person, who spoke on condition they not be named. “That was political. This is church law.”

Friday’s letter came a few days after a copy leaked of the new policy, which church leaders said was meant to guide clergy around the country in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage. The policy says children of gay parents can join the church when they are 18 — in other words old enough to make up their own minds — and no longer living with a parent “who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.”

[Here’s a fuller story after the policy first leaked]

The clarification said the policy applies only to children whose “primary residence” is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage. It does not, in other words, apply to children who have one gay parent and may not live with them full time. A church spokesman said there are likely not many children in this situation.

“Our concern with respect to children is their current and future well-being and the harmony of their home environment,” said the letter from President Thomas Monson and his two counselors: Henry B. Eyring and Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

[First Presidency says new policy aimed at “harmony" of families]

The brief letter came with a longer one from the church’s press office emphasizing that no doctrine was changed.

[Mormon press office explains new policy in more detail]

“With same-sex marriage now legal in the United States and some other nations, the Church felt the need specifically to address such marriages in the Handbook to draw a firm line and encourage consistency among local leaders,” wrote Michael Otterson, managing director of the church’s press office. “In particular, Church leaders are concerned for children–whether biologically born to one of the partners, adopted or medically conceived. In reality, very few same-sex couples would bring children for the formal Church ordinance of naming and blessing, since this creates a formal membership record. But Church leaders want to avoid putting little children in a potential tug-of-war between same-sex couples at home and teachings and activities at church.”

Significant policy changes like this one in the Church of Latter-day Saints require the unanimity of the three-member first presidency and the 12-member quorum of apostles.

The policy announcement stands out in this era, even among religious conservative groups that oppose gay equality, because it appears deliberately aimed at discouraging gay families from church, including children. Many have expressed surprise, especially since Mormon leaders have made efforts in the past year or two at extending olive branches to gay people on issues in the civil sphere.

Lorie Winder Stromberg, a Mormon who advocates for women’s ordination, said “this is the first time” she recalls Mormons from across the entire ideological spectrum all disagreeing with a church policy. She said she spoke to a former regional church leader who said if he was still in leadership he would ignore the policy as it pertains to children. “I know a lot of gay people who have agreed to let their children participate at church. Most people just don’t get this.”

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