SALT LAKE CITY – The Mormon church's massive genealogical database will begin accepting submissions of names of people from same-sex relationships sometime next year.
The move doesn't foreshadow any change to long-standing church opposition to gay marriage, but it is being done to ensure the databank has as much information as possible for researchers, according to a statement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"No judgments are made as to the legitimacy or character of the relationships found in these public records, nor can they be," church spokeswoman Irene Caso said. "They are simply collections of data to be assessed for their genealogical value by each researcher."
Caso said church members who use the database to request temple sealings for their ancestors understand that can only be done for marriages between a man and a woman.
The genealogical database, called FamilySearch, posted a statement in April on its website updating the progress of the expansion plan first announced in 2015.
The statement said several systems must be redesigned to make possible the submissions. Officials expect that work to be done by 2019, the statement said.
"The goal of FamilySearch.org is to capture, store, and provide records and an accurate genealogy that represents past, present, and future families of the world," the statement said. "To support this goal, same-sex relationships, including same-sex parents and same-sex couples, will be provided in FamilySearch Family Tree."
The Salt Lake Tribune first reported this week that the change would go into effect by next year.
The Utah-based religion of 16 million worldwide members has held firm to its opposition of gay marriage and homosexual activity while trying to foster an empathetic stance toward LGBTQ people.
The church received harsh criticism from LGBTQ groups in 2015 when it banned baptisms for children living with gay parents and instituted a requirement that those children disavow homosexual relationships before being allowed to serve a mission.
The changes were designed to avoid putting children in a tug-of-war between their parents and church teachings, leaders said.
The move to allow same-sex couples in the database is an important step forward that shows the Mormon church is making some progress on LGBTQ issues, said Troy Williams, executive director of the LGBTQ support group Equality Utah.
"We have families, we're having children," Williams said. "It's important that the LDS database reflect that."
The focus on genealogy by Mormons is rooted in their belief that families should be the focal point of lives, and that family relationships continue into eternity.
The website is used to do family tree searches and for church members to record baptisms of the dead. The Mormon church is the only major religion that baptizes the dead, and the ritual has contributed to struggles by the faith to combat the mischaracterization of its beliefs.
The proxy baptisms do not automatically convert dead people to Mormonism. Under church teachings, the rituals provide the deceased a choice in the afterlife to accept or reject the offer of baptism.
This story has been corrected to show the last name of church spokeswoman is Caso