Four years after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that the children of same-sex couples could no longer be baptized, church leaders reversed the decision. CNN reported on Thursday that Dallin Oaks, who belong to the governing body of the LDS church, announced the change at a Salt Lake City conference. After a 2015 decision announced by then-church president Thomas Monson, the church only allowed the baptism of children in LGBT households with a special dispensation. In most cases, the children of LGBT parents could only be baptized after they turned 18, left home, and repudiated same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage was considered considered evidence of apostasy, which the church defined in a 2014 press release as “repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.”
The church’s new statement says that while it still considers same-sex marriage to be sinful, it has reconsidered its categorization of the offense. “Previously, our Handbook characterized same-gender marriage by a member as apostasy,” the church said in a statement published in partial form by CNN. “While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline. Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.”
It’s a surprising reversal for the LDS church, which is a deeply socially conservative institution. Church leaders presented the 2015 ruling as a revelation from God, in keeping with LDS doctrine, which asserts that God speaks to church leaders in a series of ongoing divine revelations. These revelations can lead to major changes in church doctrine. In 1978, for example, church leaders reversed a ban that blocked black members from entering temples or receiving the priesthood. Thursday’s decision, though, is slightly unusual in that it came so shortly after the revelation it reversed. Church leaders say they decided on the shift after an “extended period of counseling with our brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and after fervent, united prayer to understand the will of the Lord on these matters.” As a result, the LDS church has liberalized its position on LGBT people weeks after the United Methodist Church voted to do the opposite. It’s still not completely clear how members who refuse to end a same-sex relationship will avoid the possibility of an apostasy charge.
The 2015 policy was not uniformly popular with members of the church, despite their tendency toward conservative politics. In fact, the change cost the church members. In 2016, the Guardian reported that over 2,600 people filed resignation papers after the church’s announcement. That reaction may reflect changing opinions within the church. Forty percent of the church’s members said they supported same-sex marriage in 2017, according to the Associated Press; the figure was 52 percent for LDS members between the ages of 18 and 29. The LDS church hasn’t quite moved with the times, but its new ruling may mollify young members troubled by the church’s previous restrictions.