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Mormons who enter into same-sex unions will be considered apostates under new church policies, and their children will be barred from blessing and baptism rituals without the permission of the faith's highest leaders.
The policies are part of "Handbook 1," a guide for lay leaders of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The changes were leaked to the public via social media Thursday.
Blogger and podcaster John Dehlin, who was excommunicated from the LDS Church earlier this year for apostasy, posted the documents on Facebook, triggering strong, sometimes angry responses including "outrageous," "repulsive" and "anti-family" from people in and out of the church. Dehlin, of Logan, called the policies "harmful" and stunning, given recent efforts by the LDS Church to build bridges with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
"It's just totally surprising," he said. "This is a level of retrenchment that I don't think anybody could have envisioned."
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins confirmed the documents were accurate, but he did not answer questions about the policies beyond stating that the church has a longstanding policy against gay marriage.
"While [the church] 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," Hawkins said in a written statement.
In a statement. Troy Williams the executive director of Equality Utah, which worked alongside LDS Church leaders to pass Utah's nondiscrimination law to protect the LGBT community and religious freedom said that all churches have the right to "welcome or exclude" whomever they choose.
"We know that children of same-sex parents are treasures of infinite worth," said Williams, who grew up Mormon. "In our universe, all God's children have a place in the choir."
Under LDS Church doctrine, marriage is considered an institution created by God that can occur only between one man and one woman. Mormon leaders have been politically active in efforts to ban gay marriage across the U.S. since the 1990s. They lobbied Congress for a constitutional amendment to protect marriage between one man and one woman in 2004.
Even so, LDS Church leaders have said members who support same-sex marriage can remain in good standing with the faith.
Under the new church policy, people in "same-gender" marriage have been added to the list of those acts that are considered apostasy and would be subject to disciplinary action.
Historically, the church has excommunicated some members who have acted on their same-sex attractions.
However, Dehlin said, "before today it's never been defined in the handbook as apostasy."
As for children, a separate section of the handbook says that natural or adopted kids of same-sex parents, whether married or just living together, may not receive a naming blessing.
The policy also bars children from being baptized, confirmed, ordained to the church's all-male priesthood or recommended for missionary service without the permission of the faith's highest leaders the governing First Presidency.
To get that permission, the policy states that a request must be made through a mission president or a regional church leader, and only after certain requirements are met. Those requirements are that a child is committed to living church doctrine and "specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage," is 18 "and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage."
Nick Literski, a gay man from Seattle who left the LDS Church after coming out in 2006, said the policy will directly affect his relationship with his children. The youngest, a 17-year-old girl who lives in Illinois with her mother, is already preparing for the mission she hopes to serve when she reaches age 19.
That may be impossible now, said Literski.
"She now can't serve a mission unless she 'disavows' her own father's life basically convinces a stake president that she's sufficiently disgusted by me," he said, adding that he was physically shaken after reading the policy.
"I'm heartsick," Literski said. "It's so incredibly unfair to put her in this position."
Literski supports his daughter's desire to serve an 18-month church mission, for which she already has asked relatives to support through Christmas and birthday gifts that may help her in the field.
As news of the policy spread, Affirmation, a support group for gay Mormons, was flooded with messages from members expressing their "tremendous hurt, heartache, emotional distress and spiritual confusion," said Randall Thacker, the group's president.
Thacker said he found the church's new policy for children of gay parents particularly egregious.
"I cannot imagine Jesus Christ denying any child a baptism because of the status of their parents," he said. "It goes against everything I ever thought the savior and baptism was about."
In response to the policies, Affirmation is organizing outreach and support events both in Utah and via the Web for Sunday. The gatherings will include a call for fasting and prayer to advance understanding and compassion, Thacker said.
In a statement, LDS women from the advocacy group Mama Dragons said the "difficult" policy fills them with profound sadness. But the women said they would remain resolute in their support of their children and grandchildren and in their work to keep families from fracturing over the issue of sexuality.
"These statements do not feel like love to us," the Mama Dragons 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 women, who run support groups for Mormon families, said they share the fears of many who believe anti-gay rhetoric from LDS leaders leaves some gay youths contemplating suicide and allows some parents to banish gay children from their homes although Mormon authorities have denounced such shunning.
"We are collectively heartbroken today as our children get the message loud and clear that they are not wanted here," the group said. "That they are merely collateral damage in some holy moral-values war."