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Same-Sex Marriage/Cohabitation Policy Clarification: Time to Fire the Legal Department

This morning the Office of the First Presidency clarified the handbook changes. These clarifications alleviate or resolve many of the problems being discussed. I’m relieved to hear the intent, much of which aligns with what I had hoped for. While many will still disapprove, the clarification verifies that this was the most poorly written policy since Brigham Young codified the temple/priesthood ban.

Same-Sex Marriage/Cohabitation Policy Clarification: Time to Fire the Legal Department

Coders, engineers, and lawyers—at very least—should have been able to detect the fundamental flaws in the original language of this policy. (See Bad Code for a description.) I don’t know what filter new policy runs through at headquarters, but the team was certainly off their game this time—and the fallout has been tremendous.

Today we learned some important things that were not clear (and some not even addressed) in the original policy:

  • Those who enter same-gender committed relationships (marriage or cohabitation) warrant a disciplinary council.
  • The restriction of ordinance for minors applies only to children whose primary residence is with a same-gender marriage or cohabitation.
  • The newly added Handbook provisions affirm that adults who choose to enter into a same-gender marriage or similar relationship commit sin that warrants a Church disciplinary council.
  • Children in such primary-residence homes who are already baptized will not have the policy applied retroactively.
  • Decisions about future ordinances for children already “in the system” will be made by local leaders.
  • All children are welcome in church meetings and in other participation.
  • All children may receive priesthood blessings outside of ordinances.

What are your thoughts?

{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Katie November 13, 2015, 1:12 pm

    I wonder if you have a typo. You wrote “Future ordinances for these children will be made by local leaders” which didn’t make sense to me. Is it “decision about future ordinances?”

    The letter/post today also implied that local leaders have leeway in whether they apply these policies or not. Is that true? For example, do they really mean that a bishop could choose to allow a child who lives with gay parents to be baptized? I would be very surprised if that’s what they mean. Or maybe, it’s one of those things that is technically true, but 99.99 percent of bishops/stake presidencies are going to follow the “unwritten order” of always sticking to the handbook.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 13, 2015, 1:20 pm

    Oh, yes! Good catch, thank you! I reworded.

    I think the leeway is in whether children to whom the policy would normally apply (those primarily living with a same-gender-relationship couple), but who are already members of record, will be allowed to continue in the typical member path.

    For example, will a child living in this situation and already baptized be allowed to be ordained.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Same Sex Marriage and the New Church PoliciesMy Profile

  • Christopher Bradford November 13, 2015, 1:34 pm

    Still tons of unanswered questions. I see no URLs allowed in comments, so check out Julie Smith’s updated “Consequences” post at Times & Seasons.

  • Alice November 13, 2015, 1:35 pm

    I felt like the statement from Michael Otterson made it clear that all handbook policies are to be used by local leaders in conjunction with the spirit, so leaders could choose to ignore this policy entirely if they felt it was appropriate for any specific situation.

  • IDIAT November 13, 2015, 1:54 pm

    Alice – I don’t think that’s what Otterson meant. There are some instances where there is wiggle room, but other things are fairly bright line. Think about it — what if a Bishop said “The Handbook says the minimum age for baptism is 8, but in this situation, I think we’ll allow it at 7.” Otterson is speaking to more gray areas of administration, and in many instances, the handbook itself encourages leaders to adapt to their circumstances. The kinds of things laid out by the newest policy changes only allow discretion to a certain extent.

  • Marshall November 13, 2015, 2:08 pm

    Thanks for your well-reasoned responses to this issue. I’ve appreciated it a lot.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 13, 2015, 2:21 pm

    Christopher, you’re supposed to be allowed up to two URLs, I’ll have to fix the glitch, sorry.

    Julie’s post is really well thought out and there are a few other issues listed in the comments. She had read my Bad Code post, but decided that the “ever lived” statement would be applied anyway, so lots of the issues revolved around that assumption. I don’t necessarily disagree that the awful wording could have been misapplied, but I don’t think the policy actually says to do many of the things she prescribed.

    With regard to the rest of the policy, I don’t see many “unanswered questions,” per se, but rather consequences of policy that are difficult and/or that people don’t like. What “unanswered questions” do you see?
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Same Sex Marriage and the New Church PoliciesMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith November 13, 2015, 2:23 pm

    I agree with IDIAT that the clarification does not mean that. All I could see (per my comment to Katie, above) was leeway with regard to continuation of ordinances with regard to children living in SSM households who are already in the system.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…The Logical Fail of the New Handbook Rules:
    Writing Policy with Bad Code
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  • Alison Moore Smith November 13, 2015, 2:52 pm

    Here is the clarifying paragraph about leader discretion:

    When a child living with such a same-gender couple has already been baptized and is actively participating in the Church, provisions of Section 16.13 do not require that his or her membership activities or priesthood privileges be curtailed or that further ordinances be withheld. Decisions about any future ordinances for such children should be made by local leaders with their prime consideration being the preparation and best interests of the child.

    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Nose and the StewardshipMy Profile

  • Dave K November 13, 2015, 3:05 pm

    For the record, the two lead lawyers on this policy were Dallin Oaks and Quentin Cook. Fire away!

  • Alison Moore Smith November 13, 2015, 3:07 pm

    Haha. Where did you get that info? Have they been out of the biz so long they really missed the bad if-then clause???

    I sincerely assume they have some kind of staff support that thoroughly vest this type of thing…
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Same Sex Marriage and the New Church PoliciesMy Profile

  • IdRatherNotSay November 13, 2015, 3:52 pm

    My thoughts are that I am grateful to you for articulating your thoughts about the policy and that you have a safe space for faithful, yet thinking members to voice their opinions.

    I agree that the policy was poorly written, though I feel that it was intentional, allowing for more discretion than what was implied.

    Once I decided to trust the bretheren on this (since it is quite confusing to me), I received a much needed, long awaited blessing. I feel that it was directly related to my decision to support the leaders of the church. I am saddened to see the fallout, the resulting pain and the anger that is brewing against the church and its members. I love my LGBT brothers and sisters. I know that one day, everything will be made right and sorted out but for now, we just endure.

    Thanks, Alison

  • Alison Moore Smith November 13, 2015, 4:58 pm

    IdRatherNotSay, thank you for sharing your struggle and your blessing. And thank you for probably the kindest words in my nearly 13 years of blogging. 🙂
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…3 Love Hacks: Self-Love, Being Liked, and the Power of Getting OldMy Profile

  • Katie November 13, 2015, 6:41 pm

    Your clarifying paragraph about kids already in the system is from the official letter, not Otterson’s blog post. I got the idea about leaders having discretion to follow the policies from the Otterson blog post. I’ll quote the entire paragraph so I don’t take anything out of context:

    “One difficulty was a general lack of understanding of the Handbook itself, which is a guide for lay leaders of the church in 30,000 congregations across the world. A purpose of the Handbook is to provide bishops and other leaders with a standard reference point when they make decisions. Because it is a policy and procedural manual, the Handbook is not written in language that is necessarily contextual or explanatory. Church leaders are encouraged to use the Handbook in conjunction with the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Sensitivity to individual circumstances is learned through the Spirit, Christ’s teachings and example as found in the scriptures, from talks and teachings of General Authorities, and from the leaders’ own experience and exposure to real-life situations. No handbook can answer every question or address every circumstance.” (emphasis mine)

    He certainly doesn’t say outright that leaders can go against the Handbook, but he did imply that individual adaptation is possible. Like you, I don’t think that’s what he really meant to say though.

    I was fairly outraged about some of Otterson’s other comments. Such as, “The episode demonstrates clearly the dangers of drawing conclusions based on incomplete news reports, tweets and Facebook posts without necessary context and accurate information.”

    99 percent of the outrage I saw was over the actual text of the policy itself, not any misleading media. My RS President said that her and her Stake Presidency Counselor husband did understand the policy to mean what a KUTV article said it meant, but she never clarified what she was talking about. I saw no inconsistency in that article.

    The only misleading thing I saw was Kate Kelly’s meme where she labeled a picture of a child as “Apostate.” Even that has some tenuous logic behind it, namely that apostates are the only ones denied ordinances by the church.

    Back to Otterson: “One difficulty was a general lack of understanding of the Handbook itself”

    Not so, in the vast majority of writings I saw. And if people did lack understanding about it, I wonder why that would be? Maybe because it is meant to be confidential and not accessible to the average member? Maybe because no female on earth outside the 9 auxiliary presidency members has the authorization to have her own copy?

    “This sensitivity to family circumstances is practiced elsewhere.”
    In very few situations. Most of the time the church is happy to teach kids things that go against their parents’ actions/beliefs.

    “For example, the Church doesn’t baptize minor children without parental consent, even if the children want to be associated with their LDS friends. A married man or woman isn’t baptized if the spouse objects.”
    Do they honestly think we’re stupid and that we will think of these as similar situations? The Church banning a child from ordinances is totally different than a parent not giving permission. One situation takes away parental agency/authority; the other honors it.

    “Missionaries don’t proselytize in most Muslim countries or in Israel, where there are particular sensitivities with family.”
    That’s a closer comparison.

    “In some African and other nations where polygamy is practiced, anyone whose parents practice polygamy needs special permission for baptism”
    Again, not comparable, because there’s no blanket ban.

    source: http://www.mormonnewsroom (dot) org/article/commentary-understanding-the-handbook

  • Katie November 13, 2015, 6:43 pm

    Oops, I meant “My RS President said that her and her Stake Presidency Counselor husband did NOTunderstand the policy to mean what a KUTV article said it meant”

  • Jim Cobabe November 14, 2015, 9:56 am

    Are you now volunteering you invaluable legal acumen to help the Church?
    Just how many times have you turned your critical analysis to perusing the Handbook?
    Jim Cobabe recently posted…Church Handbook 1: Revisons and ReactionsMy Profile

  • Ferret November 14, 2015, 12:25 pm

    Jim Cobabe, I’ve seen you around the bloggernacle and you’re nothing but an old geezer who poses as a follower of Christ while _never_ trying to deal with anyone outside your “circle of brethren” in a decent way.

    I don’t care if you want to pretend to be a tbm but no one is fooled into thinking that wearing a white shirt and a tie makes you a disciple.

  • Jim Cobabe November 14, 2015, 3:22 pm

    I freely confess that there are certain groups in the Bloggernacle with which I most categorically and emphatically neglect to associate.

    Since you offered your expert opinion in such a decent manner, perhaps you’ll recommend, out of your apparent benevolent sense of concern, what exactly would you advise me to wear, that I might better feign the TBM imposture?

    I generally do wear a white shirt on Sunday, along with other accoutrements. I confess that I do not always wear a necktie. As a feeble concession to my particular personal handicaps, and part of my pathetic act, I also always wear open-toed sandals along with an orthotic brace.

    Always open to positive suggestions about improving my appearance to more effectively fool people.
    Jim Cobabe recently posted…Church Handbook 1: Revisons and ReactionsMy Profile

  • Ferret November 14, 2015, 7:34 pm

    Good god almighty, so it’s because of your handicaps that you are such a jerk?

    Jim Cobabe, I suggest you put on a decent demeanor. Try that on for size. Instead of trolling around, slapping down anyone who dares say anything that shows a needed change or more care by the church, you dive in head first with rude comments and you think that defends the church? It makes you all look like a bunch of self-righteous non-thinking bullies.

  • Jim Cobabe November 15, 2015, 5:31 pm

    The words we use can lift and inspire, or they can harm and demean. In the world today there is a profusion of profanity with which we seem to be surrounded at nearly every turn. It is difficult to avoid hearing the names of Deity being used casually and thoughtlessly.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 16, 2015, 10:56 am

    Jim Cobabe, in fairness to Ferret, I don’t think using words to “lift and inspire” has ever been your objective. I unfriended you on Facebook months ago when I just didn’t want to deal with all the smack.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…The Logical Fail of the New Handbook Rules:
    Writing Policy with Bad Code
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  • Jim Cobabe November 16, 2015, 11:55 am

    Jesus wept.

    Thanks for letting me know that I merit your implicit opprobrium. Perhaps I ought to feel flattered, considering the other targets of your critical examination.

    I apologize that I had not noticed your friendly unfriending. In fact I never realized I was ever on your list of approved Facebook contributors. But I’m sure your Facebook friends list is so much better without my rude intrusions.

    I presume that in the interest of thoroughness and consistency you have also unfriended yourself from the general Church leaders whose Handbook instructions you are giving your stamp of supercilious disapproval?

    Stay well.
    Jim Cobabe recently posted…October 2015 General ConferenceMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith November 16, 2015, 1:39 pm

    And again and again and again. I sincerely do not believe you are capable of having a civil discussion with those with whom you disagree.

    Obviously I don’t mind snark, but you don’t make any attempt to review contrasting points of view and respond with a reasoned counterpoint. You just pull out all the stops to “prove” that you are among the faithful and the opposing person is not. But, you know, it doesn’t prove that, right?

    Whether you like it or not—and whether church leaders were in charge or not—this policy was a disaster. The public relations fallout should have been anticipated. The church leaders have scads of evidence over two decades that nothing slips under the radar anymore. That aside—because, obviously, PR can never be the prime objective of God’s church—the policy itself was a train wreck. As I noted it had (now proven) extraneous information in it that confused members and leadership. This caused enormous amounts of unnecessary pain and concern.

    Even ignoring that, the policy was so unclear that it has had, what, three official “clarifications”? If the church meant “apply only to those children whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship” and, instead, they said, “A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting…” without including the parts about the child living with those parents and the parts about that parent being the primary caregiver, you have made an enormous bungle that any lawyer should have seen a mile away.

    I won’t (and never have) tried to divine how all these oversights occurred, but it’s obvious they did occur and they wreaked havoc. Rather than impugning those who note obvious facts, how about we learn from our mistakes?
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Same Sex Marriage and the New Church PoliciesMy Profile

  • Jim Cobabe November 16, 2015, 6:24 pm

    When the Church “Legal Department” gets fired as a result of what passes for “civil discussion” with you, and whether I like it or not, I will apologize for impugning your “obvious facts”.
    BTW, just out of curiosity, did you happen to be present at the session of General Conference where all the General Church leaders were sustained? Did you perhaps raise your hand to sustain? Was that a mistake? Does it have any implications at all for you?
    Jim Cobabe recently posted…Selective Hearing, Selective SeeingMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith November 16, 2015, 6:45 pm

    Haha. And there it goes. It was bound to happen, wasn’t it? “You sustained the brethren so you must shut your mouth about anything I don’t like!”

    To answer you implication disguised as a question, I do not believe that sustaining the leaders of the church means I have to pretend that facts aren’t facts. The facts in this case being:

    1. This policy change was handled very poorly from a PR point of view. (And, in fact, PR wasn’t likely given an opportunity to deal with this until after the fact.)
    2. The original wording included extremely problematic, extraneous verbiage. (This verbiage having caused the most significant concerns and problematic concerns and that has now (as I suggested earlier) been shown to erroneous .)
    3. The repeated clarifications—some that completely change the meaning of the original edict—prove there were multiple other problems with the original writing of the policy.

    Interestingly, you have never addressed these actual points, preferring to impugn the character of others. (That’s what we call ad hominem.) It’s unclear why you think that is the appropriate way to sustain our leaders, as it seems not only willfully ignorant but also not terribly Christlike.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…3 Love Hacks: Self-Love, Being Liked, and the Power of Getting OldMy Profile

  • ChanJo November 16, 2015, 7:06 pm

    Jim Cobabe, I’ve been a reader here for years and just want to say that as an active church member who attends EVERY week and the temple AT LEAST twice per month and who serves in leadership in my ward, that YOU do not represent me. I would NEVER presume to question someone else on sustaining the prophet just because I disagree. THAT is not your stewardship and it is disgusting.

    I have dealt with the fallout of this policy mess. I support our leaders in the right to declare doctrine including the apostate nature of homosexual marriage, but that doesn’t change the FACT that this was handled TERRIBLY. There was NO preparation for leaders to deal with this mess and MOST of the mess was because WHOEVER wrote it and checked it and cleared it to be published DROPPED THE BALL. They wouldn’t have to KEEP clarifying if it was written correctly in the beginning.

    ADMIT that the clarification wasn’t explaining WHY they made the policy, it was mostly to explain WHAT THE POLICY WAS SUPPOSED TO SAY.

    Maybe YOU did not have to deal with dozens of families devastated and harmed by this, but I did. Some are still reeling, but for most of them the damage came because the policy did NOT say what the claimed meaning is NOW.

    Sorry to blow up at you but when I have to deal with people like you it makes it SO MUCH HARDER to do my job to serve and minister to people. (And when the have leadership positions, it is IMPOSSIBLE.)

    I am really sad for all the bad feelings this created, but I’m still grateful that all the problems got the leadership to do SOMETHING to make this better.

    And guess what. I just got ANOTHER text from someone in the stake trying to figure out how to deal with this. I have to go.

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