One of the Church’s greatest problems of the 20th century was its substantial growth. We went from being a small, peculiar sect hunkered down in the Great Basin to becoming a world-wide church, far-flung with different cultures and languages, and we did it very quickly. The Church’s overarching response to that problem was Correlation. Largely independent auxiliaries were streamlined under priesthood lines, things were simplified, extraneous things were jettisoned. We sometimes lament the things we have lost with Correlation, but at this late date there is simply no turning back the clock, it is a fait accompli.
Largely for the desire for simplicity and predictability that has come with the impulse of the Correlation movement, the Church has shown a certain penchant for favoring bright-line rules. A bright-line rule is a rule where you establish a simple standard that applies to everyone irrespective of individual circumstances or factors. For instance, we hope that a person who becomes president of the United States will possess a certain maturity, so we have established a rule that to become president one must be at least 35 years old. Is that perfect? No. Undoubtedly there are younger Americans that would bring a greater gravitas to the role than many older Americans, as our presidential debates might seem to suggest. But trying to apply some more meaningful standard of maturity would be very difficult and probably not worth the muss and bother that would come with it. Or consider voting laws; those are largely bright-line rules. If you are over X years of age and are domiciled in Y county and have no felony convictions, etc., then yes, you may vote. Voting is a logistical nightmare already; imagine if we were to try to vet potential voters more individually somehow.
But while bright-line rules have the advantage of simplicity and certainty and ease of administration, they also have the potential to lead to inequitable results, because by their very nature they do not take individual circumstances into account. So those values of simplicity v. equity are constantly at play when deciding whether to enact a bright-line rule.
The Church’s handbooks and policies are filled with bright-line rules.
For instance I remember eight years ago when I was stunned to learn that if a CES employee gets divorced, he is summarily fired, no questions asked. The circumstances of the divorce didn’t matter; the mere fact of the divorce triggered the policy, and you were to clean out your desk post haste. I blogged about my dismay over the injustice this policy could result in here.
The recent amendments to Handbook 1 are a set of bright-line rules, the claimed rationale for which is to prevent the children of gay parents from suffering from a sense of cognitive dissonance over the difference between Church standards and the reality of a parent’s relationship. And I can imagine situations where those policies would in fact be very much appreciated by a gay parent. A parent who despised the Church and didn’t want his or her child to join the Church would, I suppose, appreciate having this leverage over a former spouse who was a member and very much wanted his or her child to be raised as a member of the faith. In that scenario the believing parent’s desires wouldn’t matter and would be trumped by the policy. And I don’t profess to know, but maybe that would be a good result in that particular case. Maybe we shouldn’t be baptizing that child against the strongly expressed wishes of a parent.
It seems to me, however, that that type of a case is an outlier. The much more common scenario is something like this: gay young man, grows up in the faith, loves the Church, serves a mission, in desperation marries a heterosexual LDS woman in a mixed orientation marriage (a “MOM”) in a desperate attempt to live the gospel, they have children, but the marriage is simply untenable and they (often amicably) divorce, after which the former husband at some point enters into a gay relationship. In this more common scenario, both parents very much want their child to be raised in the Church. and yet, because the policy as drafted is a bright-line rule, that cannot happen. Therefore, in the vast majority of cases, instead of being a support to the gay parent the result will actually be an inequitable one that neither of the parents wants.
The alternative to a bright-line rule would be a balancing test of some sort perhaps, or a set of standards with local discretion. And we are also very experienced at giving local leaders discretion in order to take account of particular circumstances. So, for instance, a stake president or a bishop could determine that the parents (both gay and straight) had no objections to the child being raised in the Church, could provide some sort of written documentation to that effect in the membership file, and then could authorize the child’s full participation in blessings, ordinances and ordinations without restriction.
It has been rumored that the PTB are looking into revising the proposed rule in some way given the massive uproar of disapproval it has received. Simply scuttling the rule altogether would be my preference and might be the simplest and most effective course, but I suspect that as a face-saving gesture they will want to keep some sort of a rule in place. But given the myriad land mines with this rule as drafted, it would be almost impossibile to simply amend the rule and resolve all the problems if they insist on keeping it as a bright-line standard. I believe their best shot at amending the rule in a way that the membership will accept would be to avoid framing it as a bright-line rule where there is no discretion whatosoever for particular circumstances.
 I personally suspect that this is actually a post hoc rationalization, but let’s assume it’s authentic for the sake of discussion.