'Natural family' stand stirs Kanab

Published January 20, 2006 12:48 am
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KANAB - Back in 1912, Kanab made history and struck a blow for women's rights by electing what it is believed to be the nation's first all-female city council.

Today, the southern Utah city is making headlines again - this time by becoming the first town to approve a nonbinding "natural-family resolution," which envisions women "growing into wives, homemakers and mothers" but says nothing about any roles outside the home.

The latest resolution might baffle Mary Chamberlain, one of six polygamous wives of Thomas Chamberlain and mayor of that all-female Town Council, which lasted until 1914.

"They were perfectly capable to carry on the work and able to because the men were out raising livestock or crops, leaving the town without any supervision otherwise," says historian Kylie Nelson Turley, who lectures on the subject for the Utah Humanities Council.

In fact, Chamberlain urged women to serve on the council. When their terms were up, Turley adds, they often had to work outside the home to help support their large families.

"I don't think they would see the argument the way we do about staying home," she says. "Many had no choice."

Choice or not, the resolution is "ridiculous," says Theresa Beesley, president of the Utah chapter of the National Organization for Women.

It relegates women to a restrictive role, she says, and ignores the fact that many families cannot get by on single incomes.

"It is harmful to the fabric of society," Beesley says. "We should be moving forward in a more enlightened and tolerant direction - rather than one that is exclusionary and discriminatory based on an obsolete, fundamentalist religious fantasy."

But Kanab Mayor Kim Lawson defends the resolution as an affirmation of the majority view of his constituents.

"I don't see anything wrong in supporting the principles this community was founded on," Lawson says.

"I have the right, as mayor, to take a stand as to what I believe is right as a community."

Since the council - with one female member - unanimously adopted the resolution Jan. 10, the mayor says he has fielded calls from residents supporting the action. Two e-mails criticized city officials.

"They basically said I was bigoted," Lawson says.

The measure is not meant to discriminate or be exclusionary, adds the mayor, emphasizing that Kanab welcomes all comers regardless of their views on marriage.

Lawson doubts the resolution - proposed by the Sutherland Institute, a conservative Salt Lake City think tank - will have a negative impact on his tourist town.

"I don't know if there will be any ramifications," he says. "If there are, they will probably be positive."

But Ted Hallisey, executive director of the Kane County Office of Tourism and Film Commission, isn't so sure.

"We get a lot of activities and events that draw a diverse audience that adds to our community," he says, "be it the Western Legends Festival, the Greyhound Gathering or [tourists] coming to visit public

lands" such as the nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Hallisey says embracing the resolution certainly wasn't wise from a marketing standpoint.

"Women usually make the decisions on where the family goes on vacation, what car they buy and shopping decisions," he says. "You have to be careful who you earmark."


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