A policy by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to deny baptism to children of married same-sex couples has sparked a backlash. The move follows a landmark US Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.
At least 1,000 people gathered near the church's global headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah in the western US to protest a policy they say is discriminatory, handing in letters quitting the Mormon church.
"It is difficult for people to leave the church. It takes people a long time to make this decision. It is a well-thought-out one and it is not taken lightly," Brooke Swallow, one of the organizers of the protest, told the Reuters news agency.
It was unclear whether the people writing letters of resignation were all active members of the church. Many said they were raised in the faith but had not attended church services for a number of years.
The new policy explicitly bans baptisms for children of gay parents until they turn 18. Church officials said the rules are intended to prevent children from being caught in a tug-of-war between teachings at home and church.
"We don't want to see anyone leave the church, especially people who have been struggling with any aspect of their life," said church spokesman Eric Hawkins. "It's extremely important that our members read what leaders have said, and do not rely on other sources or interpretations or what people think they have said."
Rare act of defiance inside close-knit faith
The new rules, issued to local leaders around the world, prompted a flurry of discussion on Mormon websites, with the idea of targeting children ruffling even conservative Mormons who rarely question church policy.
But following the US 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 church said in a statement.
Founded in the 19th century in the US, the church now claims more than 15 million members and 85,000 missionaries around the world.
jar/cmk (Reuters, AP)