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"The ERA Is a Moral Issue": The Mormon Church, LDS Women, and the Defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment

From: American Quarterly
Volume 59, Number 3, September 2007
pp. 623-644 | 10.1353/aq.2007.0073

Abstract

This article examines the role of the Mormon Church in the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970s. While the historiography of the ERA has largely concentrated on the role of Phyllis Schlafly and Southern fundamentalists in defeating the proposed constitutional amendment, this article argues that the Mormon Church played a critical role in stopping the ERA in states as diverse as Utah, Nevada and Virginia. In doing so, the Mormon Church proved itself a formidable, if overlooked, player in the emerging New Right coalition. This article also highlights the critical role that Mormon women played in the church's political efforts against the ERA. In seeking to defeat a gain for women's equality, the Mormon Church activated its women through their church service organization to work against the amendment's ratification. This work was often presented as a religious calling, and Mormon women opposed the ERA out of service to their church as much as from political conviction. At the same time, the Mormon Church increased its emphasis on women's proper role, stressing wifely submission and domestic duties—a marked change from the church's historic encouragement of women as public figures. In light of the growing constrictions, Mormon women found that the ERA battle provided an opportunity to challenge subtly the limited role their church advocated for them. Mormon women worked to defeat the ERA, this article maintains, in part because of the chance it provided them to show the church they still had a useful public role. By opposing women's equality, LDS women showed the church and themselves that they could be more than housewives. In defending women's place in the home, Mormon women used the battle over the ERA as an opportunity to step out of their homes and take their place on the national political stage.



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