The New York Times on Friday reported some news that seems unusually cruel toward LGBTQ people — even by conservative religious standards:
Children of same-sex couples will not be able to join the Mormon Church until they turn 18 — and only if they move out of their parents' homes, disavow all same-sex relationships and receive approval from the church's top leadership as part of a new policy adopted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
That's right: The children of same-sex couples will have to disavow their own parents to join the Mormon Church, according to a new ban quietly put in place this past week.
The ban, the Times's Laurie Goodstein reports, applies to same-sex couples as well. The Mormon Church not only bans these couples from the church, but existing members in same-sex marriages are now considered apostates and subject to excommunication, according to the policy handbook obtained by the Times.
Before these latest policy changes, bishops and congregational leaders had more discretion about how to deal with Mormons in same-sex marriages. The handbook changes essentially make the stricter policies churchwide law.
It is a development that is simultaneously shocking and not surprising. Over the past year, the Mormon Church has played a big role in some LGBTQ victories — notably the passage of a civil rights law in Utah that prohibits discrimination in the workplace and housing on the basis of a person's sexual orientation and gender identity. But internally, the church is as conservative as ever — after all, in the debate for Utah's civil rights law, the church requested exemptions for religious organizations, so it can get away with policies that, for instance, ban same-sex couples and their children from the church.
But more broadly than dictating churches' policies, it's these nuances that will make up the next wave of LGBTQ civil rights battles. It's one thing for an institution to want the law to mostly let people lead their own lives without fear of discrimination, but quite another for it to be tolerant toward its own members. And that's at the center of battles over religious freedoms and LGBTQ rights.
The Mormon church's anti-gay policy speaks to the next phase of the LGBTQ rights movement
It hasn't even been six months since the US Supreme Court upheld same-sex couples' right to marry nationwide. But already, we are seeing the next phase of the LGBTQ rights movement: the tension between religious liberties and LGBTQ rights.
One recent high-profile example of this: Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses due to her opposition to same-sex marriage, reportedly wants an exemption that just excludes her from the marriage process. Davis's office, county, and state will continuing marrying same-sex couples — as required by law — but Davis herself wants nothing to do with it.
The Mormon Church also exemplifies this kind of exemption: Although it supported a law that bans employers and landlords from discriminating against LGBTQ people, it wanted to keep its own right as a religious institution to discriminate — not just against mere members but against employees, too.
Robin Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois who helped write Utah's nondiscrimination law, previously told me that Utah's style of exemption would be the kind of compromise advocates would have to make if they wanted to pass laws that protect LGBTQ people in conservative states like Utah. "The bigger problem is that if you convince people that giving gay folks rights is going to somehow encroach on religion, it's going to be harder to change that legislative map in the US," she said.
So as the most powerful religious group in Utah, the Mormon Church played a huge role in the passage of the state's nondiscrimination law. But it wouldn't have played that same role — and the legislation might not have passed, protecting at least some LGBTQ people — if the law didn't include an exemption that can let the church reject even the children of same-sex couples. It's what LGBTQ advocates call the "Utah compromise," but it could soon reach other conservative states if the tension between religious liberties and LGBTQ rights is to be resolved.