SALT LAKE CITY – Several hundred people with roots in the Mormon faith gathered in Salt Lake City on Saturday to renounce the church's new policies targeting gays and their children in an event that marked the latest illustration of the fervor the rule changes have caused.
Billed as a mass resignation by Mormons, people filled out paperwork and dropped off the resignation letters at a church building. The large majority had stopped attending church years ago. But they said the new policy that bans baptisms for children of gay parents until the kids turn 18 and disavow same-sex relationships spurred them to come and formally cut ties and have their names removed from the faith's membership rolls.
"We're supposed to love our children like God loves us," said Teresa Schofield, a former Mormon who stopped attending more than a decade ago. "To ask someone to turn their back on their own child or for a child to turn their back on a parent, that's unnecessary."
The rally came one day after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stood behind the policies issued on Nov. 5, while providing more explanation and clarifications.
Officials said the rules are intended to prevent children from being caught in a tug-of-war between teachings at home and church. They clarified that the rules apply only to children living primarily with a same-sex couple.
They also said that while the children of gay parents won't be given the full spectrum of ordinances, they aren't barred from attending worship services.
Mormon church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement that officials hope the expanded clarification issued Friday will provide understanding and context to Latter-day Saints who were considering leaving the faith.
But the new guidance didn't sway those in attendance at the rally, attended by at least 500 people. Speakers harshly criticized a new set of rules that also make gay marriages a sin worthy of expulsion.
"If you are hurting today, you are not alone. If you are angry today, you are not alone," said Lauren Elise McNamara, one of the event organizers. "We are here for you and your families. Today we expand from members of a church that excludes to members of a world community that embraces. A world that is choosing love."
The crowd included gay and lesbian couples as well as straight couples. Many came with children. They held signs such as, "Standing on the side of love," and "These policies harm all of us."
Connie Walker of Orem held a sign that read, "I'm resigning today because Jesus says love everyone." She is a straight mother of three kids who hadn't been attending church for about eight years.
Coco Barth and Nichole Jensen, a lesbian couple who were both raised in the faith, said they have been thinking about formally renouncing their membership and were compelled by the policy changes to finally do it.
Barth, 19, said she came out as lesbian last summer and stopped attending church nearly two years ago. But she said the rule changes still stung her.
"My family is still all really Mormon," said Barth, of Cottonwood Heights, Utah. "It's going to affect my life a lot. Maybe my kids will want to go to church with grandma and grandpa? They will be treated differently."
Across the street from the park where the rally took place stood one counter-protester who defended the church: Brandon Robertson. Dressed in a suit, the 20-year-old gay Mormon from Orem, Utah, held a sign with Bible verses and a picture of Jesus Christ and said people should stand behind what church leaders say.
About the new policies, he said, "It's coming out of place of love for these children. It's giving them a grace period to make a decision on their own."
The rules, issued to local leaders around the world, prompted a flurry of discussion on Mormon websites, with the idea of targeting kids ruffling even conservative Latter-day Saints who rarely question church decisions.
After the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last summer to make gay marriage legal nationwide, church leaders wanted "to draw a firm line and encourage consistency among local leaders," the Friday news release said.
In addition to providing a forum for people to renounce their membership, event organizers wanted to show people there is life after Mormonism, even in a place like Utah where more than half of the state is estimated to be practicing Latter-day Saints.
Micah McAllister runs a website with resources for ex-Mormons. He and his wife Sandy Newcomb, also an ex-Mormon, came to show their support. Like many attendees, they come from families where nearly everyone is still devout Mormons.
"There is community and other things out there that is better than what the LDS church is offering them," McAllister said.
They said it's not fair that children of gay parents are being singled out when the church commonly baptizes kids who have parents who aren't following church doctrine and rules.
"They're treating the gay community like they are criminals, and they are not," Newcomb said.