The Mormon Church has issued a rule change that allows officials to oust gays and their children.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this week disseminated changes to the Mormon handbook (the Handbook of Instructions) to local church leaders.

Under the changes, gay married Mormon will be considered apostates, which could lead to excommunication. A disciplinary council “may be necessary” for gay couples cohabiting but not married, the handbook states.

Additionally, the children of parents in gay or lesbian relationships, married or cohabiting, cannot join the Mormon Church until they turn 18 and then only if they are no longer living with their parents, disavow same-sex relationships and receive approval from the church's highest leaders.

“The church has long been on record as opposing same-sex marriage,” spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement. “While it respects the law of the land, and acknowledges the right of others to think and act differently, it does not perform or accept same-sex marriage within its membership.”

The change puts married gays on par with people who commit murder, rape, sexual abuse, spousal abuse, adultery, or abandon their family responsibilities.

“I am no better now than an illegal polygamist,” said Nathan Kitchen, a 47-year-old gay Mormon with five children who recently divorced his wife.

“It's almost like [my children] now have to choose between a gay father and a church that they love,” he told the AP. “This is almost too much to bear.”

While the church has been criticized for supporting restrictive marriage bans – primarily in California and Hawaii – its support for an LGBT protections ordinance in Salt Lake City was widely seen as a step toward greater acceptance.

John Dehlin, who was excommunicated earlier this year for supporting marriage equality, told The New York Times that the new policy would “trigger a huge round of excommunications for legally same-sex married Mormons” and that it “closes the door on future change.”