By Kay Mills —
Reprinted as it appeared on September 14,
1977, by permission of the Newhouse
The women's movement has discovered a new enemy—the Mormon Church
—because the church has found a new evil-
the Equal Rights Amendment.
Officially, the Mormon Church opposes the amendment because it feels it
will weaken the family, a basic element of
But Ezra Taft Benson, probably the
best-known Mormon nationally and next in
line to head the church, acknowledged he
felt the amendment would "weaken men."
Men are dominant, he said, because "someone must be in charge and take leadership."
Another church official said the
question has nothing to do with male
"We simply think the family garden
is the best place to grow happy humans,
and that garden is already in trouble," said
Neal Maxwell, a member of the Presidency
of the First Quorum of Seventy.
Mormons started drawing intense
feminist flak when they turned out by the
thousands at several state meetings held
this summer as follow-ups to International
Women's Year (IWY) and helped defeat
Equal Rights Amendment resolutions.
Leaders in the women's movement fear
conservative elements will turn the national
meeting in November into a media event of
"'women against women."
The amendment would encourage
women to go to work, Maxwell said.
"It will create a suction that will pull
people out of the home at a time when
they are most needed as mother and wife,
scramble the aspirations of our daughters
and create a generational gravitational pull
from the home," he said.
A pro-amendment group known as
Mormons for the Equal Rights Amendment
puts the matter bluntly. "Much opposition
to the amendment is rooted in resistance to
change, and we profoundly believe many
societal attitudes about men and women
are unhealthy, unrealistic and need
Elizabeth Chittick, nead of the
National Women's Party and an Equal
Rights Amendment backer, says, "The
Mormons, I believe, are frightened of any
challenge to the man as head of the
The church rarely ventures into politics so publicly although it has enormous
clout. Its position was clear earlier when
the amendment was up for ratification in
PRAYER MEETINGS THEY HOLD
T ON SUNDAY.
IHOSE ARE PRECINCT MEETINGS."
says Joe Neal, the only Black in the Nevada Senate
Utah, where Mormons comprise more than
70 per cent of the population. The amendment lost.
This summer Mormon women, often
directed by men with walkie-talkies, came
to sessions in Utah, Washington, Montana
In Utah, where 3,000 to 5,000 women were expected, nearly 14,000 showed
up and voted down most key International
Women's Year resolutions, including the
Equal Rights Amendment, sex education,
state or federal funds for abortions and
additional federal money for more conferences. Congress has appropriated $5
million for these meetings.
In Ellensburg (Washington), 2,300
women pre-registered; 2,000 more, many
of them Mormons, turned up to vote down
endorsement of the ERA and officially ignore abortion, day care and gay rights
The turnouts surprised planners of
the state meetings and enraged feminist
Previously, the principal religious foe
of feminists was the Roman Catholic
Church. The issue was and is abortion. But
it was the newly-surfaced Mormon opposition which ignited the fiercest passions at
the recent National Women's Political Caucus convention in San Jose.
"I do not think we should allow Salt
Lake City, where the church leaders historically over-married, or Rome, where the
head of the church never marries, to delineate what the American family is," thundered Liz Carpenter, co-chair of
ERAmerica, the coalition pushing for
££]n Utah, a resolution actually reached
the floor calling for the repeal of women's right to vote. Also a resolution was
passed to dissolve the IWY altogether... 33
"We have a right to know whether a
tax-exempt church is using its two years
of servitude"—young Mormons spend two
years in missionary work—"to go out to
preach on a political issue," Carpenter told
an ERA workshop. "I want to ask these
young men in blue suits I see at these meetings, 'Who paid your way?' "
Neal Maxwell spoke against the ERA
in Florida last March. Boyd K. Packer, a
church elder in the second-level governing
body, has spoken against the amendment
in Idaho and South Carolina.
Asked whether the church paid for
his trip to Florida, Maxwell said, "Yes, because I did some church work as well while
I was there."
Benson, agriculture secretary under
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, explained
Mormons believe the first obligation of a
woman with children "is in the home with
her family. We encourage them to broaden
themselves but not to neglect home and
"I have yet to be shown one legitimate argument that the ERA will weaken
the family," Christine Durham, a Salt Lake
City attorney and pro-ERA Mormon, said.
The amendment symbolizes attempts to
encourage women to share economic
responsibility with men and to allow men
to spend more time with their children,
Durham, mother of four children and
an active church worker whose husband is
a great-great-grandson of Brigham Young,
Mormon founder, thinks the ERA will slow
down movement of many young people
away from marriage and children.
Utah IWY coordinating committee and a
Mormon ERA backer, says she received no
pressure from anyone in a leadership
Advocacy of the ERA and other liberal positions cost Beth Jarman her seat in
the Utah Legislature from the conservative
Salt Lake City suburb of North Bountiful.
Jarman said Relief Society women went
door-to-door in her district saying she was
an "evil woman."
In the election after the ERA defeat,
her neighbors put up large signs endorsing
her opponent. After the election, she and
her husband moved from the neighborhood
in which they had lived 11 years. "It hurt
... it took a real toll on my family," said
Jarman, now a state cabinet member as
director of community affairs.
Jarman, brought up in the church,
said, "Just don't underestimate them. If
they tell their members to respond, they
will respond. They do not regard it as a
secular issue. They regard it as a calling."
slate, despite the federal guidelines for
ethnic balance and despite the fact that
the state's Mormon population is only
3.2 per cent. Non-citizen women were
brought in from a Mormon-owned Polynesian cultural center 33
With 2.3 million members in the ■
United States, Mormon clout stems not £f Hawaii elected a 63 per cent Mormon
from size but from devotion of its members. "Our church is so organized that
everything moves very quickly down the
chain of authority," said a Quincy, Grant
County, woman who attended the Ellensburg conference.
In Utah, for example, the IWY planners asked Barbara Smith, head of the
church's women's organization, the Relief
Society, to invite Mormon women to the
conference. So the church sent a letter
over Benson's signature to its wards—or
parishes—suggesting each send at least 10
women and urge them to invite their
But Smith admits now the Relief
Society "didn't give specific directions and
so created a vacuum into which various
conservatives stepped to advise on voting
Smith says she has no apologies for
what happened at the IWY meeting because "we were invited."
Asked whether he feared Mormons
might be used by extremists as a "front,"
Wendell Ashton said, "Our people are
counseled not to align themselves with extreme organizations on either right or left.
"Some of the extremists on the right
at the meeting said, 'We're carrying the
mail with you on that.' But the women are
counseled against that."
Durham says she has had no trouble
with her church or its members because of
her pro-ERA stand. Jan Tyler, chair of the
Quotes taken from
"They are doing everything to offset
the onslaught of the women's movement—
which they think is ERA-but the movement is going on."
Benson, Maxwell, the Mormon Relief
Society president Barbara Smith and a
Mormon public relations official, Wendell
Ashton, all insist the church simply thinks
the amendment is too broad. "There are a
lot of laws already on the books but we
don't enforce them," Smith said.
Maxwell, a political scientist, said the
amendment "would create a sense of
security, but as court decisions come, it
might create consequences they don't
The First Presidency of the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, as the
Mormons are formally known, issued a
statement which said in part, "While the
motives of its supporters may be praiseworthy, the ERA as a blanket attempt to
help women could indeed bring them far
more restraints and repressions. We fear it
will even stifle many God-given feminine
instincts. It would strike at the family,
humankind's basic institution."
Countdown to Houston" by Llndsy Van Gelder, MS., November 1977.
"A NEW ENEMY-THE MORMON CHURCH"
DAILY BREAKTHROUGH NOVEMBER 19, 1977 PAGE 3