Mormonism and politics/Equal Rights Amendment
Why did church leaders oppose the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)?
Critics assume that because the Church opposed the proposed "Equal Rights" Amendment, that the Church opposed equal rights for women. In fact, the Church did not oppose equal rights for women, but rather was opposed to other potential consequences of the ERA. Church leaders felt that the ERA would have a negative impact on women's rights and families. Furthermore, the Church felt that the Constitution already prohibited sex discrimination and that an amendment was unnecessary.
The Church's Stance on Equal Rights
Church leaders have spoken out against inequality on several occasions and have never condoned abuse or oppression. Men and women are seen as equally important in the plan of salvation, the happiness and fulfillment of both being equal priorities.
The Church felt that equality could be obtained without trying to blur the distinctions between men and women. Leaders and members also felt that women might lose rights specific to women, for instance, the right to depend on her husband financially and stay at home caring for her children.
The Excommunication of Sonia Johnson
Sonia Johnson, a feminist and ERA activist, was excommunicated. Her excommunication came after she gave a speech, titled "Patriarchal Panic: Sexual Politics in the Mormon Church." She spoke several more times on the topic, always harshly criticizing the Church and its leaders.
Johnson often cites her stance on ERA to be the reason for her excommunication, although there is no evidence that this is actually the case. The reasons for an individual's excommunication are rarely publicly released by the Church. In this particular case, however, Johnson and those close to her claimed that she was excommunicated for apostasy. When one considers the scathing and critical tone of her public speeches, it isn't hard to imagine that she would be excommunicated for apostasy. No other individual has ever claimed to have been excommunicated for their stance on the ERA, although a number of other members did publicly disagree with Church leaders on the issue.
Johnson's later remarks in Chapter 5 of her book, Going Out Of Our Minds: The Metaphysics Of Liberation also make it clear that there were other issues at work, though in keeping with the Church's practice of disciplinary council confidentiality, they were not revealed at the time.
The Church opposed the ERA, but not equal rights, as expressed by the campaign slogan, "Equal Rights, Yes. ERA, No!"
- [note] Sonia Johnson, "Patriarchal Panic: Sexual Politics in the Mormon Church" speech given at the American Psychological Association Meetings, New York City, 1 September 1979. off-site
- [note] Linda Sillitoe, "Church Politics and Sonia Johnson: The Central Conundrum," Sunstone no. (Issue #19) (January-February 1980). off-site PDF link
- [note] Sonia Johnson, Going Out Of Our Minds: The Metaphysics Of Liberation (Crossing Press, 1987), chapter 5.