Top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have reversed a policy that prevented minor children of same-sex married couples from joining the church and participating in its sacred rituals since 2015.
Many conservative churches oppose same-sex relationships and have done so with increased intensity since the second half of the 20th century. In the case of Latter-day Saints, the reasons for opposing same-sex marriage are based in their theology of a “real family,” as willed by God.
However, as a scholar of gender and sexuality in Mormonism, I argue that the 2015 decision to bar children of same-sex parents from the church was tied to the conservative fight against same-sex marriage that was finding an increasing acceptance at the time in courts and elsewhere.
Mormon theology is based on a divine heterosexual archetype that sets the pattern for all intimate human relationships.
Latter-day Saints hold an ideal that heaven is a domestic paradise where families will live together in eternal harmony. In Latter-day Saints’ view of God, there is a divine Father in Heaven, but also a Mother in Heaven, who are believed to be the heterosexual parents of human spirits.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File
When the policy was adopted in 2015, the church deemed same-sex married Latter-day Saints as “apostate” and excommunicated them. This involved removing their names from the records of the church and nullifying any previous rituals.
In order to explain why the children were also deserving of official sanction, the church said it was an effort to “protect” them.
One senior church leader claimed that it was an act of “love” and “kindness” to prevent the children of same-sex families from participating and joining the church. One church leader, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, said, “We don’t want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the Church are very different.”
In the religious practice of Latter-day Saints, a child’s name on church records initiates visits to their home and an expectation of attending church-sponsored activities. Christofferson claimed, that it would not be “an appropriate thing” for a child living with a same-sex couple.
The church even issued an official statement about not wanting to subject children to teachings that their same-sex married parents were “apostates.”
Mormons and politics
What I argue is that the roots of rhetoric of the focus on family goes back to the emergence of the anti-gay politics of religious conservatives starting in the 1970s.
At the time, several preachers and anti-gay activists such as Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye and others increasingly spoke out against the gay rights movement as a threat to “family values” that would undermine society. Latter-day Saints joined this opposition.