The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made a suprise reversal of policy by declaring that same-sex couples will no longer be considered "apostates" and can now have their children baptized into the faith, reports CNN.
Speaking at a conference in Salt Lake City, Dallin Oaks, member of the church's First Presidency said that same-sex marriage will now be considered a "serious transgression" and no longer treated as a betrayal of the faith. By doing this, the Mormon church hopes "to reduce the hate and contention so common today."
"Previously, our Handbook characterized same-gender marriage by a member as apostasy," Oaks said in a statement. "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."
The church clarified that it has not changed any significant doctrines on marriage, calling all LGBT Mormons to live a chaste life. Children of LGBT parents can be blessed by a member of the Mormon priesthood as a baby and then be baptized at age 8 if the parents give permission and consent to raise the child in the faith.
The decision comes at a time when various U.S. congregations of faith have been reviewing policies regarding the LGBT community. The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. changed its constitution to allow same-sex marriage in 2014, followed closely by the Episcopal Church in 2015, which had already been relaxing its policies on same-sex unions as far back as the early 2000s.
Since the Evangelical community has no uniform body, the shift in acceptance on same-sex unions has largely been on a per-pastor basis. In 2013, former Mars Hill pastor Rob Bell came out in favor of same-sex marriage shortly after his book "Love Wins" caused a shockwave throughout the evangelical world due to its Universalist themes.
"I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man," Bell said. "And I think the ship has sailed. This is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are."
In 2015, Bell was later joined by Evangelical leader Tony Campolo, who reversed his longterm stance against homosexual actions and same-sex marriage.
"I have concluded that sexual orientation is almost never a choice and I have seen how damaging it can be to try to 'cure' someone from being gay," Campolo said. "As a Christian, my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them, and to endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church."
Campolo compared Evangelical opposition to homosexual actions and same-sex marriage to past transgressions by Christians, even mentioning those who supported slavery. "I am old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of scripture," he said. "Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery."
Various Christian universities have simultaneously dropped opposition to same-sex unions. Most recently, Azusa Pacific University announced that same-sex relationships are allowed on campus.