When Mormon feminists talk about female ordination or gay marriage or even the continued lack of parity in requirements for missionary service, we often take a social justice approach–i.e., implementing this policy is the right thing to do, so why aren’t the Brethren doing it, and why aren’t they doing it now? But the Church, by its nature as an institution, is not only conservative (a frequent observation) but also (perhaps less talked about) has to deal with some formidable logistics when it comes to implementing any churchwide policy, no matter how amoral its content or how long it’s been anticipated by the membership. So. Assuming the most the Church is ever going to doctrinally approve greater recognition for gays and women, here’s what a progression of “one miracle at a time”-type changes might look like:
Women and the Priesthood: In his talk announcing the missionary age change, President Thomas S. Monson “affirm[ed] that missionary work is a priesthood duty.” And of course this makes sense: administering priesthood ordinances (namely and especially baptism) is sort of an integral part of missionary work. On the other hand, the continued presence of the mandate along with the age disparity has ensured that small percentages of LDS women would ever serve missions (as of October 15% of missionaries were single sisters). If the Church were to announce female ordination this April, suddenly there’d be no justification for making women’s service optional. Suddenly there’d be tens of thousands of young women with no prior plans to do so possibly expected to serve missions. In other words, the Church can’t give the priesthood to women because too few of them are planning to serve missions and can’t ask more of them to serve missions without creating complications in the mission field (i.e., lack of candidates for mission hierarchy and ordinance performance problems) and calling into question the point of the priesthood in in the first place. Hashtag catch-22.
That’s where the age change of October last comes in. The number of applications filed by men and women has remained approximately equal since the announcement (as of early January). If and as missionary service becomes more and more commonplace among women, female ordination will become a far more tenable possibility–due, again, to the presence of mission field administration (of ordinances) difficulties and the absence of a large un-missioned population of young women. So while it’s no guarantee that the Church is headed toward Official Declaration 3 in the near future, the age change was most probably a necessary forerunner to any such announcement.
Gay Marriage: “Who would be the priesthood holder in a lesbian couple? The ‘man’ in the relationship? Lol.” Okay technically I haven’t heard anyone say it exactly like that, but it’s a common (if facetious) objection–one that would obviously disappear when/if women get the priesthood. More broadly, the gendered nature of the priesthood is the crux of Mormon gender ideology–the alleged differences between men and women and their roles (which includes both those asserted by the Proclamation itself and those that rest on it for support) would come under severe, widespread scrutiny. Along with those distinctions would go at least part of the entrenched enshrinement of heterosexual monogamy–e.g., “I think we as men need women to be complete, and that women bring a balance to the relationship that simply cannot be found with another man.” As more and more peeps across the country and the world come to support gay marriage, Mormons who want to support it as well would find themselves in less of a bind than previously.
Ergo, yes, I am saying I believe the age change may mark the first step down the inevitably long and arduous road to gay marriage. Or so I dream.