(Reuters) - Mormon church leaders elaborated on Friday about a recent policy on children in same sex marriages that drew fire from rights activists and prompted hundreds of members to say they planned to resign.
The provisions, approved last week by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, added same-sex marriage to the list of acts considered to be a renunciation of the Utah-based faith and subject to discipline, including excommunication.
It also prohibits natural or adopted children of gay married couples from being baptized as Mormons until they turn 18, leave their parents' home and personally disavow same-sex marriage or cohabitation.
In a statement, the church's governing First Presidency said on Friday that they had been obligated to act for the welfare of both adults and children in setting out the new policy.
"The provisions ... that apply only to those children whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship," the three-member board said in a statement.
"When a child living with such a same-gender couple has already been baptized and is actively participating in the Church, ... (the provisions) do not require that his or her membership activities of priesthood privileges be curtailed or that further ordinances be withheld," the statement said.
Decisions concerned such children, it added, should be made by local church leaders "with their prime consideration being the preparation and best interests of the child."
It said all children should be treated with the utmost respect and love, that they are welcome to attend church meetings and take part in church activities, and may receive priesthood blessings of healing and spiritual guidance.
The First Presidency comprises church President Thomas S. Monson and two male counselors.
The Mormon church this year announced support for U.S. laws protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing and employment. But its leaders have said sex should only happen between a wedded couple, and that they cannot sanction same-sex marriage.
Hundreds of demonstrators plan to gather on Saturday at a park across the street from the faith's headquarters complex in Salt Lake City, before mailing letters stating that they resign from the church, organizers of the protest say.
(Reporting by Daniel Wallis in Denver; Editing by David Gregorio)