Why the LDS Church includes same-sex couples in its genealogy database

The 2019 move has proved popular in family history circles, though LGBTQ members would like to see their faith take further steps.

(Courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) FamilySearch is the genealogical arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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FamilySearch, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ genealogical website, says its nearly 2-year-old move to list same-sex parents and couples in its massive databank has proved to be a popular one.

How popular? Well, FamilySearch, by policy, does not publicly release such specific statistics. Still, Chief Genealogical Officer David Rencher says those unpublished numbers do show that including “same-sex couples and same-sex parents has been well-received by the community of enthusiasts engaged in family history.”

“Every person’s life is important to reflect in the fabric of the human family,” explains Rencher, who also serves as director of the church’s Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake City, “and adding these features to the [the site’s] family tree [feature] enables everyone to experience and see where they fit into the big picture.”

The Dec. 10, 2019, official announcement, however, has not changed the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage nor its recognition of only traditional, male-female unions for solemnization and “sealing for eternity” within the faith’s temples.

(Courtesy photo) David Rencher, chief genealogical officer for FamilySearch and director of the downtown Salt Lake City Family History Library.

Thus, the FamilySearch initiative remains just another step for those hoping for wider same-sex acceptance by the church, says Nathan Kitchen, president of Affirmation, an advocacy and support group for LGBTQ Latter-day Saints and their families and friends.

“When the announcement was first made,” Kitchen says, there was a “sense of relief within Affirmation and LGBTQ communities that the church would finally open its family records listings and pedigree format for all family configurations, not just opposite-sex monogamous and polygamous family configurations.”

But it wasn’t necessarily seen as “an inclusive gesture,” he adds, “rather a necessary evolution for FamilySearch to survive and thrive in the family history marketplace.”

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Though a nonprofit operation, FamilySearch — linked to the church’s 5,400 family history centers worldwide and boasting nearly 1.4 billion individual names in its family tree archives — is a big player in a digital arena that includes for-profit companies like Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and FindMyPast.com.

Kitchen notes the latter three genealogical sites were ‘listing and including same-sex couples and their children long before FamilySearch.org made its announcement and subsequent changes.”

Of course, those family history services are not owned and operated by a religious institution committed to what it sees as divinely defined marriage on one hand and changing mores and cultural norms on the other.

Rencher puts it this way: “Issues surrounding gender cross all segments of the population; so these new features accommodated [church members] whose families need to be reflected accurately in the FamilySearch family tree, as well as any of the other millions of [our] users throughout the world.”

Kitchen says his own mother was among the many who welcomed FamilySearch’s same-sex pedigree expansion.

“Yes, [she] was very excited to add me and my husband to the family tree in FamilySearch after my marriage,” he says. “[And] over the past couple years, I have heard of many parents who are happily adding their same-sex married children [and] grandchildren into their proud family heritage.”

Nathan Kitchen is the president of Affirmation.

Even so, Kitchen asserts that “as fast as parents can add their same-sex married children to their family records in FamilySearch, the church removes them” from the faith by withdrawing their memberships.

“It is a huge disconnect . . . to have the church remove them from their ‘forever family,’” he says. “For Latter-day Saint parents, this eternal family tree, not the FamilySearch family tree, is the only one that really matters in the end.”

Kitchen and others in the LGBTQ community hold out hope the church’s proclaimed prophetic leadership will have a “revelation” that includes same-sex spouses and their families in the next world.

“In doing so,” he says, “they will bless and support the families who have joined together in fidelity and love, and connect them” beyond the grave.

That, of course, is beyond Rencher’s purview. For now, recognition of same-sex couples within the family tree matrix is in keeping with FamilySearch’s global mission.

“We are focused on creating inspiring experiences that bring joy to all people as they discover, gather and connect the family — past, present and future,” he states. “To that end, all the efforts to gather the world’s genealogical records, publish them freely online, create the ability to add, preserve and share photos, personal memories, and document the lives of everyone in a global family tree, are all inclusive, regardless of race, sex, religion or ethnic background.

“FamilySearch,” he says, “is dedicated to creating a place to remember the lives of the human family.”

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