The struggles of being a queer woman and a Mormon

There has been a lot of focus lately on the Mormon Church (also referred to as the Church of Latter Day Saints). The church recently introduced harsh new rules that many see as a punishment for same-sex couples and their children. Children of same-sex parents cannot be baptized into the faith until they are 18, and they can only be if they disavow “the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage,” plus jump through a few additional hoops, all because they are being raised by a same-sex couple. Despite the rising tide of equality, the Mormon Church is doing its best to be on the wrong side of history.

Along with this recent news, some Mormons have taken a stand and resigned from the church. However, leaving a faith you love because it doesn’t love you back, isn’t an easy option for many. I spoke with an out woman who is currently a member of the LDS church, as well as a queer woman who left the church in her 20s. Their unique perspectives are important as individual voices are getting lost in all the outrage.

Mormons Protests Church's New Ruling Against Children Of Same-Sex CouplesProtesters who marched and then turned in resignation paperwork to the LDS Church at a recent rally

Betty (last name withheld) lives in Utah and has been a member of the LDS church since she was 11. She’s married to a woman and they have four children between the ages of 12 and 22 from her wife’s previous marriage. Mel Wells is a writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest. For Mel, the news of the new ruling wasn’t all that shocking.

“When I heard about the excerpt from the Handbook of Instructions being leaked, and that it forbade children of same-sex parents to be baptized, the news honestly didn’t surprise me,” she said. “As a fifth-generation Mormon who left the church in my mid-twenties, I’m very accustomed to the LDS church having a public stance and a private policy that conflict. These conflicts were the main reason I left the church after serving an 18-month mission in Belgium and feeling like I was lying to people all the time.”

However, Betty and her wife had a very different experience.

“When the new ruling came out on the internet, our family reeled,” she said. “We kept reading it over and over to see if we had misunderstood.  For [my wife] and I, we had always been taught in the Articles of Faith (the basic outline of Mormon core belief system) that ‘men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.’ That is, you aren’t held accountable for what your parents did. We always worried that the kids might be bullied, but we never thought it would be by a church supposedly teaching you to be like Jesus.”

Betty’s children have all already been baptized in the faith, but this is a practice that will no longer be allowed according to the new rulings. The new rules also make people like Betty and her wife, apostates. According to the LDS church, apostasy occurs “whenever an individual or community rejects the revelations and ordinances of God, changes the gospel of Jesus Christ, or rebels against the commandments of God, thereby losing the blessings of the Holy Ghost and of divine authority.”

Faithful Attend Mormon General Conference In Salt Lake CityThe Salt Lake Temple looms large above the city.

For Betty, this is a hard pill to swallow. “The church handbook now looked on us as ‘apostates,'” she said. “Our children, still living at home, would have to leave home and disavow our marriage in order to receive ordinances such as baptism or blessings, to go on a mission, or receive priesthood ordinations. We were deemed enemies to the church.”

One can imagine that for someone like Betty, who believes deeply in the teaching of the church, this was an earth-shattering moment.

“We have never publicly spoken out about the church, but here we are put above murderers and adulterers,” she said. “This inclusive ruling against children of same sex couples, married or cohabiting, they said, was to not confuse children being taught that what their parents were doing was a sin. So now children of pedophiles, people addicted to pornography, adulterers, or murderers can be baptized at eight years of age but not children of same-sex marriages. They have to wait 10 more years. This affords the church to not have to perform services for anyone associated with those deemed apostate to their teachings.  This is what the church administrators did to ensure their religious freedom. Clearly this is against the teaching that we are not punished for other’s transgressions. We keep telling each other as members, this is policy not doctrine.”

Mel addresses the policy vs doctrine debate as well.

“Initially I saw my still-practicing family and friends discounting the leaked excerpt from the updated Handbook of Instructions as merely ‘policy’ and not ‘doctrine,'” she said. “My surprise came when the apostle [Todd] Christofferson made a statement. In Mormonism, a statement by a living apostle is considered hard doctrine. The leadership had a chance to explain and soften their stance, and instead they made a completely tone-deaf statement about how this ‘protects children.'” 

It’s also about so much more than religion. As we saw recently in Utah, when a judge (who is also an LDS bishop) removed an infant from her foster parents for no reason other than they were lesbians. Thankfully, the judge reversed his order and has removed himself from the case, but the fact that this was allowed to happen in the first place, gives many faithful and secular alike, pause.

Same-Sex Couples And Their Children Banned By Mormon ChurchA statue of a mother and children on the grounds of the LDS World Headquarters in Salt Lake

“With the connection in this state between a major religion and its reach into state politics, I’m afraid that I will never be able to adopt the kids as my own… This is what the Supreme Court gave us when they voted for equal rights,” Betty said.

Still, Betty tries to remain open and positive in the face of this devastating blow to LDS same-sex families.

“Our advice to all of our children is to keep an open mind and heart to the people in the church that have, so far, never discouraged us to participate,” she said. “From reading the backlash of comments, I know that many members are having a hard time reconciling their beliefs knowing that we all still want to be a part of a church that does so much for others. Jesus has taught us not to judge and to love one another. They see us as people and not some political group. We pray for them.”

Mel has a different perspective and harsher words for the church which refuses to open itself up to a growing and changing world.

“As society continues to be more accepting of LGBTQ people and loosens up gender roles, the LDS church will continue to be more and more irrelevant and off-putting,” she said. “From my perspective, the church is continuing down the road to being a small, fundamentalist cult instead of an acceptable world religion. The ‘Mormon moment’ is being sabotaged from the inside, because the church is led by a group of elderly, conservative white males who remain stubbornly out of touch with (or in denial about?) rapid social changes. And as more membership sees their family and friends leaving the church and leading happy, productive lives as ‘sinners,’ the cognitive dissonance will mount and the church will continue hemorrhaging members. All the PR spin in the world can’t hide intolerance and cruelty.”