One of the doctrinal situations in the church that many feminists (and even some non-feminists) find particularly challenging is our lack of knowledge about Heavenly Mother. We know that she exists—this has been reiterated by a recent gospel topics essay—but, troublingly, we are not allowed to pray to her or worship her. I’ve personally blogged about the topic a couple of times—once about why I don’t want to believe in her (because she’s silent and subordinate), and once about why I do (because I want to believe that women are equal in the eternities). Every time this topic gets discussed, I encounter women sharing the deep desire to have a connection not just to an eternal father, but to a mother as well. It’s not good enough just to have a father, they say; we also need the influence of a mother in our lives.
It is worth noting, however, that these kinds of arguments are exactly those being made against same-sex marriage. Children need opposite-sex parents. It’s not enough to have just a father (or a mother)—they need the influence of the opposite sex as well.
So what are you to do if you both see a need for Heavenly Mother, and you support gay marriage? Are the two hopelessly in conflict? I’ve thought a lot about this question. And these are my very tentative thoughts on why I think you can make the case that a belief in Heavenly Mother doesn’t have to preclude support of same-sex marriage, and vice versa.
1) We need Heavenly Mother because we need information about what women are doing in the eternities. This is vital. The fact that she’s (apparently) silent and distant points to the devastating possibility that that is the destiny of her daughters. The fact that we don’t worship her is particularly troubling, I think—it suggest that women can’t become divine beings worthy of worship in the way that men can. Are women more than appendages to men? This is a core question, and a stronger doctrine of Heavenly Mother, one which not just allowed but celebrated the possibility of prayer to her, would go a long way in saying that women are powerful agents in their own right. This is the case whether or not one believes in gay marriage.
2) We have no idea what the makeup of the eternities generally, but our doctrine is that we in our sphere have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. If you believe in the value of two-parent families, it’s a problem that we’re missing a parent. And if she’s there, we should be learning about her, regardless of whether the heavens are generally heteronormative.
3) We need Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father as role models for all of us, to show us that positive traits aren’t limited to one sex or the other, that in particular women can be leaders and men can be nurturing. We need this as a challenge to our cultural gender stereotypes. We all need this, regardless of sexual orientation.
Ahh, you say, but once you’ve brought up role models, don’t children in individual families need role models of each sex? I can in fact see advantages for those in straight marriages, because they get role modeling from two sexes—but I can also see advantages for those in gay marriages, because they get to see the variation among people of the same sex, and are less likely to hold gender stereotypes. But more importantly,
4) We need to move away from the isolated nuclear family, and give children from both straight and gay marriages multiple role models of both sexes, whether found in extended family or close friends. The idea that there should be an isolated unit of parents and children which is autonomous and independent is a particular historical and cultural ideal which has caused all kinds of problems. Same-sex marriage becomes less threatening, I think, when you have a broader concept of family.
5) Same-sex marriage and a robust doctrine of Heavenly Mother both bring about good things, I would argue. The former encourages committed relationships among gay people, and the latter empowers women (just to name a few of the benefits). It would be a shame to abandon one of these goods simply because the theoretical issues are messy.
In the end, I believe we have a Heavenly Mother and a Heavenly Father. And I don’t think that their gay children are some kind of mistake. I don’t know what that means in the plan of salvation, or how it will play out in the eternities. (Taylor Petrey’s work is worth a mention here, as one possibly way of dealing with the theological challenges posed by homosexuality.) But I’m not ready to write off the importance of Heavenly Mother, or say that gay people are defective. It’s a hard issue, but it’s one worth tackling.