Who is Actually Being Served by the Exclusion Policy Reversal?
by Alan Williams
Submitted to Affirmation following The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s reversal of their November 2015 policy changes that prohibited children of LGBTQ parents from being blessed and baptized and characterized members of the church entering into same-sex marriages as apostates. These changes became known within the LGBTQ Mormon community as the “exclusion policy,” “policy of exclusion,” or “PoX.” The day after the reversal of this policy was announced, Nathan Kitchen, President of Affirmation, invited anyone willing to and share their authentic feelings and all their stories of grief, anger, relief, sadness, happiness, confusion, whatever they may be that surround the rescinding this policy. “As President of Affirmation, I want to be sure Affirmation does not hide you or your stories as we move forward,” wrote Kitchen in his invitation. If you have reactions or a story to share about the reversal of the exclusion policy, please send to [email protected]. You can also read other stories and reactions to the reversal of the exclusion policy.
Given the news of the “policy reversal,” I’d like to offer my brief thoughts on the matter. My understanding is that the 2015 policy was the Church’s “defense” against the national legalization of same-sex marriage. On the one hand, the Church was compelled by the larger US context to recognize same-sex marriages and families as actual entities toward which policy needed to be created; prior to this, the Church had not really addressed the familiness of these households, focusing instead on the behavior of individual members. On the other hand, the policy the Church decided upon was to disavow the families: both the parents and the children. Fast-forward to today, the Church has “reversed” its policy only insofar as returning focus to the behavior of the individual; as the Church puts it: “the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.” Given that homosexual relationships are inherently deemed immoral whereas heterosexual ones are not, all we see is a strategic reassertion of the previous status quo now that the Church feels more adjusted to the surrounding context of legalized same-sex marriage.
Therefore, what the policy reversal has me questioning is the demographic who is actually being served. While no doubt there are families consisting of same-sex parents with children who were affected by the 2015 policy, the vast majority of LGBT Mormons do not fit into this demographic and are more generally affected by the overarching “immoral behavior” issue. The policy and its reversal are about a conversation the Church is having with itself: a kind of “we can meet you halfway here” when the “you” is not even in the room, and the “we” represents a kind of heterosexist echo chamber. I’m reminded of a 1964 quote by Malcolm X: “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out, much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”
Alan Williams has done extensive work on the Church and LGBT issues. His past work includes a 2011 essay in Dialogue: Mormon and Queer at the Crossroads and a 2013 essay in Religion Dispatches: The Curious Case of Mormons and LGBT Rights. In 2009, Williams published a novel, Ockham’s Razor, a bittersweet love story between two gay Mormon characters for which he was interviewed by Affirmation in 2010.