LDS baptism

A woman and young children watch a baptism ceremony at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will allow women to be official "witnesses" at two key ceremonies where they were previously only allowed to observe in the latest small step toward breaking down rigid gender roles in the religion.

Church President Russell M. Nelson said in a news release Wednesday that the policy change allows women to serve as witnesses at baptisms for the living and dead and at a ceremony inside church temples for married couples called a “sealing,” which the faith believes unites the couple for eternity.

Only men had been allowed to be official witnesses previously.

The Utah-based faith of 16 million members widely known as the Mormon church reserves the priesthood and the highest leadership positions for men, but has made several changes in recent years to involve women more.

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