Laurie Goodstein, New Policy on Gay Couples and Their Children Roils Mormon Church, New York Times

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is facing a growing backlash from Mormons upset about a new policy that bars children living with same-sex couples from baby-naming ceremonies and baptisms and declares members in gay marriages to be apostates subject to excommunication.

The church, while standing by its new policy, issued a clarification on Friday, saying that the rules affected only children whose “primary residence” was with a same-sex couple — not those who might have a gay parent living elsewhere. The clarification also said it was not necessary to exclude children from further church activities or sacraments if they had already been baptized and were living with a same-sex couple.

But the clarification is unlikely to calm the furor. The policy has hit hard in a church that considers family bonds central in this life and eternal in the afterlife. While church members are pouring out their pain and confusion at family dinners and on Mormon blogs, critics are planning a “mass resignation” in a park adjacent to the church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City on Saturday.

Even some local church leaders have conveyed their objections up through the hierarchy, said Benjamin R. Hertzberg, who serves in his Atlanta congregation, or ward, as second counselor to the bishop in a three-person leadership team known as a bishopric.

“I’ve heard from many, many people in wards and bishoprics who are expressing serious concerns and reservations,” said Mr. Hertzberg, a visiting professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta. “It seems to me deeply unfair to put a barrier in the way of the children’s involvement when the children are not responsible for their parents’ choices.”

It appears that the new rules were not supposed to be made public. They were issued as changes to a confidential handbook, and sent by email last week to leaders of the church’s 30,000 congregations around the world. They were leaked to the news media and confirmed by a church spokesman.

The handbook change says that the “natural or adopted” children of parents in same-sex relationships — whether married or cohabiting — cannot be blessed as babies, baptized or ordained into the priesthood (if they are male), nor can they serve as missionaries.

They can join the church after age 18, but only if they move out of their parents’ home, disavow same-sex unions and receive permission from the church’s top leadership, the First Presidency.

Another change to the handbook adds “same-gender marriage” to a list of conditions considered apostasy and grounds for excommunication.

The Mormon Church has long opposed gay marriage.

But until now, its bishops were given discretion over whether to discipline Mormons in same-sex relationships. Some Mormon congregations have quietly welcomed gay couples and their children.

Until the clarification on Friday, the only official explanation the church had offered was a 10-minute videotaped interview with D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the 12-man leadership group that assists the church’s president and his two counselors. He said that church leaders felt it important to stake out clear boundaries in light of the Supreme Court decision in June establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

“There was a need for a distinction to be made between what may be legal and what may be the law of the church and the law of the Lord,” he said. “So it’s a matter of being clear, it’s a matter of understanding right and wrong, it’s a matter of a firm policy that doesn’t allow for question or doubt.”

Mr. Christofferson cast the policy as a compassionate step, intended to spare children from the cognitive dissonance of belonging to a church that teaches that their parents are sinning.

“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,” he said.

Some Mormons are not accepting their leaders’ explanations. Women are asking if female church leaders were consulted before the decision was made, and how they are to carry out such a policy. There is an online petition asking artists to cancel their performances with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at its Christmas concert.

There were immediate objections on Friday to the church’s clarification, with some Mormons saying that it puts unfair pressure on the children of divorced parents to choose to live with heterosexual parents over gay ones if they hope to remain in the church.

“Any church that wants to claim itself as a Christian organization that uses Jesus Christ the savior to somehow exclude any group of people is not anything that I want to be a part of,” said Sarah Epperson, who is among those who plan to resign at the protest in Salt Lake City on Saturday.

Ms. Epperson, who is 28 and runs a restaurant in Utah County, just south of Salt Lake City, said she had been “on the fence” about her church membership for eight years, but this recent news had pushed her over the edge. Her father, Donald Braegger, recently came out as gay and decided to resign this year before a disciplinary hearing that could have resulted in excommunication.

Mr. Braegger, 55, said his story was the same as that of many gay Mormons whose children would be affected by the new policy: Even though he knew as a young man that he was attracted to men, he married a woman because his church taught that homosexuality was sinful, and he was a faithful believer.

He had seven children and spent years trying to overcome his homosexuality through prayer and reparative therapy.

After 26 years, he and his wife divorced about a year and a half ago.

If his children were younger than 18, they would be barred from church membership under the new policy if they were residing primarily with him and a gay partner.

“There’s hundreds of us, if not thousands, who have been through this same journey,” Mr. Braegger said.

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