On Saturday, August 18th 2012 I attended the We Are Woman Rally in Washington, D.C. which was organized to protest the war on women, evaluate the current state of women’s rights and make our interests known to our representatives; to communicate that we won’t sit back and remain silent while women’s rights—for the first time in more than a century—are not only being threatened, they are moving backwards. I was invited to speak about The Equal Rights Amendment and the importance of women getting the same constitutional guarantees and protections as men. I represented Mormons for ERA and talked about how my religion shaped my moral imperative to fight for equality, social justice and rights and protections for women, children, mothers and families. I argued that for too long we have let the conservative right co-opt religion and families as the motivation for their legislation even when it is evident how many their laws and policies harm women, children, mothers and families. I concluded by encouraging everyone to press forward in the fight for women’s rights and led the masses in the now 50 year-old chant: “Hey! Hey! What do you say? Ratify the E.R.A.”
Hearing hundreds of voices join together in support of what I consider one of the greatest travesties of legislative justice in American history was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Unfortunately, another memory from that day stands out just as clearly.
Mormons for ERA were gathered on the West lawn of the U. S. Capitol holding signs, mingling with fellow protestors, and wrangling our children when a family approached us. They were a Caucasian seemingly upper-middle class family of four on vacation to the District of Columbia. They saw our signs and wanted to know more about the rally and our organization. We explained briefly and the wife inquired about our Mormons for ERA sign. “Are you for or against Mormons?” she skittishly asked. “We are all Mormons” I cheerfully explained. A look of relief flushed across her face and she reached out to connect, “We are Mormons, too” she enthused. We soon got talking about banal subjects and the husband interrupted to ask what the ERA was. I had not even gotten through a basic description of the 24 word amendment when he interrupted me again to explain why what I was saying was wrong because “God makes those decisions, not humans or governments” he assured me. “Excuse me?” I asked. I was certain I had misunderstood him because his statement made no logical sense in the context of what we were talking about. “The scriptures clearly show that marriage is between one man and one woman. That is God’s truth and humans or governments have nothing to do with it.” He preached and then reached out, gathered up his family and began quickly turning his back on us. “Well, do you want to talk about this or are you leaving?” I asked trying to be considerate of their family vacation schedule and not wanting to debate in front of his children unless he was game. He turned to look at me exasperated. His visage was scrunched with annoyance that tacitly communicated, “I’ve already explained it to you little girl. What more can be said?” I was not intimidated. I dared to suggest, “Actually our scriptures have many forms of marriage sanctioned by God: polygyny, polyandry, concubines, marrying the eldest daughter, widows marrying brothers, etc. More importantly, however, what does this have to do with women’s rights and the ERA for which this rally is gathered?” He ignored everything that I said then he rolled his eyes and shook his head as he reasserted his point about the bible, God, and governments with “the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant” (Solnit 2012). When the last phrase left his lips he turned and walked away without so much as acknowledgment that I was still standing there or that I might want to reply. He made sure that his was the last word. As he made a hasty retreat his wife and children were left to awkwardly say goodbye and rush ahead to catch up to him.