Mormonism heavily criticised for its attitude towards gay rights
The conservative US state of Utah, home to the Mormon church, has been the subject of a heated national discussion following its recent treatment of gay people.
Salt Lake City, the state capital, hit the headlines on Wednesday when it elected its first openly gay mayor, in a vote described as historic by gay rights groups.
However despite this progressive development, two recent occurrences concerning same-sex couples have prompted anger as they suggest Utah has a long way to go in relation to fully accepting its burgeoning LGBT community.
Firstly, the Mormon church declared that children of gay couples cannot be blessed as babies or baptised until they turn 18.
Once they reach that age, they will have to renounce same-sex marriage and prove they are no longer living with their parents, in order to join the church.
In the letter to lay leaders of its 30,000 congregations around the world, the church also explained that Mormons in same-sex marriages are considered apostates and as such could be excommunicated.
In a separate development a Utah judge last week ordered a lesbian couple to surrender their foster baby, on grounds that the child would be "better off" with a heterosexual family.
The judge later rescinded his order and excused himself from the case following an uproar.
Rights groups claim the two events are worrying and fly in the face of national advances on gay rights.
The incidents contrast starkly with recent positive developments for the LGBT community in Utah, including the mayoral election this week.
“The irony is not lost on any of us here,” Troy Williams, the head of Equality Utah, a gay rights group, told AFP.
“Utah is full of surprises,” he added. “We defy stereotypes every step of the way.”
Williams pointed out that while the state overall was conservative, a recent poll showed that the capital Salt Lake City had a higher percentage of LGBT residents than New York.