I have long held that the biggest barrier to sanctioning gay relationships in the Mormon Church is the exclusion of women in its priesthood. The biggest source of homophobia, in my opinion, is gender inequality. If there is nothing inferior about femininity, then a man who displays feminine behavior isn’t to be feared or ridiculed, but in the Mormon Church there is something inferior (or at least so vastly different) about women that a man who displays female traits is committing a gross crime. Furthermore, the Church is based on the family unit, which ideally is lead by the priesthood. A lesbian home would be absent the priesthood eternally, and a gay man’s home would have it twice over. That just doesn’t work. The Church could not sanction gay marriage without first giving the priesthood to women.
And I believe it is completely possible for the Church to extend the priesthood to women without throwing everything out the window. Women perform priesthood tasks in the temple, and they are appointed “priestesses” there for the hereafter. Many Mormons believe that women will receive the priesthood in heaven, or will have their own priesthood that is closely tied to motherhood. Church leaders could play up all of these things for a few years, and start an anticipation for a future day when God will open the priesthood further, similar to what happened in the Church before the 1978 revelation lifting the ban on blacks in the priesthood.
Even though the Church can extend the priesthood to women, it doesn’t have to, and I’m not sure it will. The Catholic Church sets a huge precedent—for centuries they have not lifted their ban on women joining the priesthood, and they have survived just fine as an organization. I don’t think the LDS Church will become obsolete if they don’t embrace gender equality any more or less than the Catholic Church.
Both Catholics and Mormons have had their fair share of break off sects, however, who have embraced gender equality. While most Protestant sects coming away from Catholicism have found success in ordaining women, the Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS, a break off of Mormonism) lost twenty percent of its membership when they extended the priesthood to women some 25 years ago. I’m not sure that a Church as obsessed with growth as the LDS church would take the risk given what happened to its sister organization. Like I said, I believe the Church should embrace gender equality, but that doesn’t mean it has to or that it will.
But interestingly enough, the Community of Christ, which still uses the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants and which is organized in basically the same structure as the LDS, has embraced gay relationships during their spring general conference this month. So I am right in stating that opening up the priesthood to women does pave the way for sanctioning gay relationships. The question is, will the LDS Church follow?