April 4 (UPI) -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reversed a policy Thursday and will now allow children of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents to be blessed as infants and baptized as members.
The church announced the change ahead of its semi-annual conference in Salt Lake City this weekend. Officials said the change also updates its handbook of instructions for leaders and removes the label of apostasy for people who identify as LGBT, which was imposed in November 2015.
"The very positive policies announced this morning should help affected families," church President Dallin H. Oaks said in a statement. "In addition, our members' efforts to show more understanding, compassion and love should increase respect and understanding among all people of goodwill.
"We want to reduce the hate and contention so common today. We are optimistic that a majority of people -- whatever their beliefs and orientations -- long for better understanding and less contentious communications."
The 2015 policy classified same-sex couples as "apostates" and generally prevented their children from becoming church members.
"While we still consider [gay] marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of church discipline," Oaks added. "Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way."
Oaks said faith leaders can't change divine doctrine, but the church wants policies and other members to be more considerate of those in the LGBT community.
Equality Utah, an LGBT advocacy group, welcomed the announcement and thanked "courageous" members of the church who pushed for the change.
"You were heard, and today marks a positive step in teaching our young people we all have value -- regardless of our sexual orientation or that of our family members," Executive Director Troy Williams said.
"We thank the church leadership for their willingness to listen and engage their members and our community on these issues."