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Ask A Mormon: The church, families and homosexuality

Do you have a question about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Submit it online or fill out the form below.

By Samantha Briggs

The LDS Church does not extend membership to gay people, and if the child of a gay parent wants to be a member they must renounce their parents…is this correct? If so, how does this align with a belief in the Ten Commandments – specifically honoring your father and mother?

SPO-House-ad_Ask-A-Mormon_0823139Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints strive to follow the example of Jesus Christ in showing love and compassion to all people.  They also follow his example of taking a strong stance on what is right and what is wrong. “[Jesus Christ] also expressed love by teaching clear doctrine and standing firmly against sin with sometimes-tough lessons for which people rejected Him. That is where Church leaders stand today – holding firm to the doctrinal position of right and wrong, while extending love to all people.” (Michael Otterson).

The LDS Church has been clear on its position that same-sex marriage is a serious sin, and it will disqualify a person for membership in the LDS Church. So questions and concerns about what this means for children of same-sex couples who may want to be baptized into the LDS Church are definitely valid. In November 2015, the Church updated its policy handbook to address situations involving the minor children of same-sex couples. It’s important to note that this policy only applies to children, “whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship” (statement from the First Presidency). Children to whom this applies may be baptized and confirmed, ordained, and recommended for missionary service if the following two conditions are met:

  1. The child accepts and is committed to live the teachings and doctrine of the Church, and specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.
  2. The child is of legal age and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.

I think there is an important distinction between “disavow the practice” and disavowing or renouncing a person. To “disavow” means that you deny support for or association with something. In this case, children would not disavow their parents, but the practice of same-sex marriage, accepting instead the Church’s teachings that God ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman.

I can think of several practices or behaviors that I disavow or do not support based on my faith tradition. These include drug and tobacco use, alcohol consumption, premarital intimacy, and same-sex relationships. But do all of these behaviors exist within the circle of people that I care about, respect, and associate with often? Yes, of course. I would think that most of us have had the experience of loving someone despite actions or life choices that we may have not been in support of. I’ve heard many stories recently of loving parents who because of their religious beliefs do not support same-sex marriage, but who are unwavering in loving and accepting their child who has chosen a same-sex partner. This is not always easy, especially for someone who is firmly rooted in their faith.

So now imagine that from another perspective—a child who does not support the behaviors or life choices of their parents. I can think of many possible examples of this outside of just same-sex marriage, and those can be tough waters to navigate. Especially considering—as this question mentioned—that we are taught to honor our father and mother. Should we expect children to navigate these sometimes sticky situations that many of us as adults still struggle to handle gracefully?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a very family-oriented church and places high priority on strengthening home and family relationships. Michael Otterson, Managing Director of Church Public Affairs, made this statement about the church’s policy on children of same-sex couples:

“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. This sensitivity to family circumstances is practiced elsewhere. For example, the Church doesn’t baptize minor children without parental consent, even if the children want to be associated with their LDS friends. A married man or woman isn’t baptized if the spouse objects. Missionaries don’t proselytize in most Muslim countries or in Israel, where there are particular sensitivities with family. In some African and other nations where polygamy is practiced, anyone whose parents practice polygamy needs special permission for baptism so they know that a practice that is culturally acceptable for many in the region is not acceptable in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

In addition, in a video interview, D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about this policy coming from a place of compassion and sympathy, which he feels as a husband, father, and grandfather:

“This policy originates out of that compassion. It originates from a desire to protect children in their innocence and in their minority years…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. And so with the other ordinances on through baptism and so on, there’s time for that if, when a child reaches majority, he or she feels like that’s what they want and they can make an informed and conscious decision about that. Nothing is lost to them in the end if that’s the direction they want to go. In the meantime, they’re not placed in a position where there will be difficulties, challenges, conflicts that can injure their development in very tender years.”

The LDS Church’s focus on the family is something that I appreciate and value very much, and the more I have studied it, the more I do feel that the Church’s policy on children of same-sex couples has come from a place of compassion and concern for these children and for family relationships. No child will ever be asked to renounce their parents, because I think God holds each of us to a higher standard than that. I think God’s expectation for each of us is that we develop the ability to seek out truth and to discern between right and wrong, and then that we continue to show love and compassion to all people, regardless of their own choices.

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