Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Mormon boy denied priesthood ordination because his mom is living with a woman

Same-sex marriage

11/14/15 Update: Yesterday, the LDS Church released a clarification that directly affects the family described in this story. Read here for information on the November 13 First Presidency letter, more details on the Church’s policy toward same-sex families, and Alyssa Paquette’s reaction.


This time last week, Alyssa Paquette’s twelve-year-old stepson was preparing to be ordained to the priesthood in the LDS Church.

Now that has all changed. On November 5, the Church confirmed a new policy that forbids baby blessings, baptisms, and priesthood ordinations for minor children who reside at least part of the time in a home where a parent is in a same-sex marriage.

The sadness has been palpable. After a crushing weekend spent trying to understand what the Church’s new policy means for him, the boy* is crestfallen.

“Usually he is so positive and easygoing, but ever since these policies hit and we learned he would not be ordained, he has been depressed and anxious,” says Paquette, 35, a Mormon mother living in Oregon.

He’s not the only one. Their whole blended family has been suffering since the news hit last Thursday. Their family configuration is complicated but loving: The twelve-year-old is Paquette’s husband’s son from a prior relationship. The boy’s mother subsequently began cohabiting with a woman. The father joined the LDS Church, married Paquette, and had three more children with her, now ages 8, 6, and 2.

The boy’s two families share equal custody and his biological mother has been accepting of the decision to raise him as a Mormon, despite her reservations about its teachings on LGBT issues. “All of his parents were there” at his baptism four years ago, says Paquette. “It was a great experience because we all came together to support our son during an important time.”

Now Paquette expresses shock and grief that on the eve of their son’s ordination, he’s being rejected. “It feels like a mourning process, like someone has actually died. The church is such a huge part of our lives, and to have that suddenly taken away from him is really challenging,” she says.

Paquette notes that her family has been deluged with “an outpouring of love and support” from their local ward, and that the bishop reached out to them immediately. “He was very sympathetic and full of love, and struggling to find the right words for us.”

But, she says, “He was also at a loss for how the new policies would apply in our situation. It sounds like he hasn’t been given much guidance other than what’s in the handbook.” At first, the family hoped that an exception might be made because their son is already a baptized member of the church, and so close in age to his planned ordination.

However, that was impossible since he is legally required to live part-time in his biological mother’s home according to the terms of their joint custody agreement. Under the new policy, this makes him ineligible for most of the church’s rites until he becomes an adult—and even then only if he disavows his mother’s same-sex marriage.

“That is just not an option for us,” Paquette says. “My husband and I feel that it would be wrong to have him disavow half of his family.”

The shock wave of this policy change doesn’t just affect her son, though.

Her eight-year-old daughter was scheduled to be baptized next week, and now that will not be happening.

“Even though our three other children aren’t precluded from being baptized, we feel like we can’t continue to participate in church with the policy as it stands,” she says. “We have a strong conviction that it’s wrong.”

The Paquettes have decided that they will either attend church together as a family, with all of their children treated equally, or they will find somewhere that is a “safe place” for the six of them.

Paquette breaks down in tears at the thought of not being Mormon, which is “a huge part” of her identity. She does not want to have the family’s names removed from the rolls—“that would be really drastic, and would close a door”—but she won’t choose the church over keeping her family whole.

“When you’re raised in the church, you’re raised to sustain your leaders. You’re taught that anything that comes from the church is from God, and to not sustain them is to not sustain God,” she says.

“But I don’t know how we’re supposed to sustain something that tears our family apart.”


 RELATED STORIES OF FAMILIES AFFECTED BY THE POLICY CHANGE:


 

* Children’s names have been omitted from this story at the request of the family.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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