How the Mormon Church Helped Defeat the Equal Rights Amendment
The Equal Rights Amendment sought to protect women from discrimination. It was a simple statement that guaranteed women equal treatment under the law.
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
It was passed by Congress in 1972 and then sent to the states for ratification where 38 state legislatures had to sign on. The ERA was ratified by 35 states by 1979, but it only had until 1982 to get the remaining three. This is when the Mormon Church decided to take a stand.
In the book, The Mormon Corporate Empire, authors John Heinerman and Anson Shupe detail the Church of Latter Day Saints’ involvement with helping defeat the Equal Rights Amendment in those crucial years. They detail the extensive lobbying campaign against the ERA made by the Mormon Church, and how it was able to mobilize grass roots LDS members to oppose it;
“Word went out through the LDS Women’s Relief Society, which has chapters in every ward.” Women were “directly told by ward leaders how to vote on issues such as the ERA.” The Mormon newspaper, The Deseret News, “ran antifeminist/anti-ERA editorials. Women were asked to bring female friends, neighbors, and relatives who shared mutual concerns.” Mormon women infiltrated and gained control of women conferences on the subject. p. 146
Nevada’s chance to pass the ERA came in Nov. 1979. It became a battleground for the LDS leadership;
Mormon’s ward and stake leaders preached on the ERA referendum, urging members to vote against it. Some LDS leaders used such opportunities to recommend favorite anti-ERA candidates. Meetinghouses became places where anti-ERA literature was distributed and anti-ERA speakers found audiences… anti-ERA pamphlets, tracts, and newsletters were distributed through the home teacher and visiting teacher networks of the Church. Other material was inserted in the Beehive newspaper. Ward and stake leaders were encouraged to distribute anti-ERA literature and use telephone trees to promote anti-ERA candidates and generate votes against the amendment. p. 149
According to James T. Richardson in “The ‘Old Right’ in Action: Mormon and Catholic Involvement in an Equal Rights Amendment Referendum,”
Word was received from somewhere that a recent poll showed ERA slightly ahead, and this was used to mobilize the Mormon Church in the Las Vegas area (where over 50 percent of Nevada’s population resides) for one last major effort. A meeting was called on Saturday night of Mormon leaders from throughout the area and around 2000 attended. In an emotion-packed meeting, they were strongly encouraged to do everything possible to make sure that ERA was defeated. These people went back to their individual wards (churches), and mobilized them to call others, to distribute literature, to get people to the polls, and to do “poll-watching,” using church lists in some cases… virtually every Mormon in Las Vegas was called and urged to vote, and that literature was “dropped” on virtually every doorstep in Las Vegas the day before the election. p. 149
In this way, the LDS leadership in Salt Lake City was able to kill the Equal Rights Amendment in Nevada. They were successful in Florida with similar tactics.
The effort to derail the ERA in Florida was interesting for the way the LDS poured money from around the country into the Florida state senate races.
This (LDS) campaign put thousands of dollars into the campaign chests of four Republican Senate candidates and funded a massive anti-ERA advertising campaign. p. 150
Most are unaware of the power of the Mormon Church’s hierarchy. When they oppose something fiercely, like the ERA, or when they support something intently, like California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8, they will spare no expense and go to any length to gain victory, their methods all heavily shrouded in secrecy.
The Equal Rights Amendment was a big issue in the late 1970’s, the time when Mitt Romney was an active stake president and bishop in Belmont, Massachusetts. As the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney needs to be asked whether he opposed the ERA, and, if he did, what actions did he personally take to stop it. That’s not a religious question, that’s a political one.