Poll: Utahns support ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Local supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment rally at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, to encourage Utah to ratify the ERA.

Nearly three-fourths of Utahns favor the state Legislature ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, according to a poll released Tuesday from UtahPolicy.com.

“I hope that our legislators look at the numbers and they can now see you’ve got more than half of their constituents are in support of the ERA,” said Sara Vranes, one of the Utah leaders of Mormons for ERA.

Last month, Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, introduced a joint resolution calling on Utah to vote for ratification. That same day, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which steadfastly and publicly opposed the ERA in the 1970s and ’80s, announced its position has not changed.

After being first proposed in the 1920s, the ERA passed the U.S. Senate and House in 1972. The text of the amendment says, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

The ERA needs to be ratified by 38 states before it can be added to the U.S. Constitution. As of 2019, 37 states had ratified. Some advocates have predicted that Virginia will become the 38th state after Democrats won control of the Legislature in recent elections. But Utah supporters hope this state could take on that role.

“Whether it’s Utah or Arizona or Virginia, it all benefits us if this gets ratified,” said Amy Rich, co-founder of Fair Utah, which organized a rally at the Capitol last month in support of Utah ratifying the ERA.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Amy Rich, co-founder of Fair Utah, joins local supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment as they rally at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, to encourage Utah to ratify the ERA.

The new poll from UtahPolicy.com and Y2 Analytics found that 48% of Utahns strongly favored the Legislature voting to ratify the ERA, while 23% said they somewhat favor ratification. Another 28% said they were strongly or somewhat opposed.

Kwan said she didn’t find these numbers surprising. Past ratification efforts in Utah have failed, but last session, the Legislature unanimously passed a resolution by Kwan “reaffirming the value of women” and recommended “that the language and intent of the Utah Constitution provision guaranteeing equal political rights be considered for inclusion in the United States Constitution."

“It’s really important that we do that," Kwan said, “and that we do it this year.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, sponsor of a joint resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is joined by other local supporters of the ERA during a rally at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019.

The poll found a partisan split with Democrats and independents in favor of the amendment and a majority of Republicans opposed. It also saw a spike in the support among women, at 80%, compared with men, who supported ratification at 64%.

According to the poll, 64% of very active Latter-day Saints and 66% of less active members of the church said they would favor Utah ratifying the amendment.

The poll was conducted from Nov. 19 to Dec. 7 and included 911 registered voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. Kwan’s announcement and the LDS Church’s reiterated opposition came Dec. 3.

Vranes said the LDS Church voicing its opinion during the time the poll was taken may have affected results by a couple of percentage points. But people aware of the history of the church and the ERA may have already assumed that the church’s position would be the same as it was before, she said.

Going forward, Rich said she and other local ERA advocates will continue to focus on constituents and legislators. While the church affects culture in Utah and some people may look to the church to shape their political opinions, “a religious organization isn’t going to make this decision. It really is ratification under state legislatures.”

We’re obviously hopeful that [legislators] are acting as representatives, not just their own person, to see that if this is what Utah wants, that they will look at it closely and consider it,” Rich said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gayle Ruzicka, political activist and leader of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum is joined by supporters as they "storm" the state school board meeting on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, during the public comment period to talk about their concerns with sex ed. Ruzicka said she opposes the Equal Rights Amendment.

Gayle Ruzicka, a conservative activist and president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said Wednesday that she had not seen the poll but doesn’t think these surveys right now “mean a whole lot because we’re just getting started to go out and educate people.”

Ruzicka said she spoke to a group Wednesday about why she opposed the ERA, such as how it could affect abortion laws and women being drafted into the military during war. Ruzicka said she and others will continue to get their message out to the public and legislators.

“We’re all for equal rights,” Ruzicka said. But the amendment suggests “everybody is the same, and everybody isn’t the same."

During the push to ratify the ERA in the 1970s and ’80s, church leaders published articles, distributed pamphlets and lobbied against the amendment, encouraging members to do the same. They feared it could damage families and pave the way for gay marriage, women in the military, unisex restrooms and increased abortions.

The Deseret News reported in November 1974 that 65% of Utahns favored ratifying the ERA, including 63.1% of Latter-day Saints, Martha Sontag Bradley wrote in her book “Pedestals and Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority and Equal Rights.”

Before the state Legislature’s session began in 1975, the LDS Church issued an unsigned editorial in the Church News, a section of the Deseret News, that “sealed the doom of the amendment in Utah,” according to Sontag Bradley. Calvin Rampton, the governor at the time, “predicted that the editorial would most likely have a ‘profound effect on the outcome of the ERA in the Utah Legislature.’”

In February 1975, the ERA was “overwhelmingly defeated" in the House. The politician who originally sponsored the bill, Byron M. Fisher, "reversed his position, telling a Salt Lake Tribune reporter, ‘It is my church, and as a bishop, I’m not going to vote against its wishes,'” according to the book.

The church-owned Deseret News ran an editorial last month titled “In our opinion: Why Utah should not pass the current version of the Equal Rights Amendment.” It argued the amendment could have “far-reaching unintended consequences that could ultimately harm women,” and said it could “impact abortion law and potentially draft women into military service during times of war.”

Even if a 38th state voted to ratify, it is unclear whether the amendment would be added to the Constitution. Some have argued that a 1982 deadline set by Congress could negate more recent ratification votes. Five states have also voted to rescind their ratification of the ERA.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today.