Tom Walker: Voting is not the same as equality for women

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Depicting women gaining the right to vote in the Utah Territory in 1870, the Seraph Young Votes mural is seen above the House Chamber at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020.

The March 15 Salt Lake Tribune editorial pages include two articles, one by the editorial board and another by George Pyle, decrying Utah’s mistreatment of women, especially in light of the laudatory attention being focused on a Utah woman, Seraph Young, being the first woman to vote in the United States.

As a missionary for Equal Rights Amendment back in the early 1980s, I experienced first hand The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ furious opposition to ERA, an opposition that church leadership has recently reaffirmed.

It would be natural, tempting even, to presume the celebratory reminders of the first woman to vote are a way of expressing that LDS Church leadership, despite its opposition to constitutionally mandated equality, has otherwise demonstrated its high regard for women.

Or, it could simply be another example of much else the church leadership undertakes: reminding Utahns of who really is in charge here and amplifying the church’s political power.

Witness, for example, the fate of voter-approved initiatives regarding medical marijuana, redistricting and Medicaid expansion. Or the dedication to reducing the threshold for DUI from .08 to .05, allegedly because of concern for public safety.

That concern would be far more credible if it extended equally to cell phone use while driving, which scholarly studies have determined is as dangerous, or more so, as driving while intoxicated. Somehow, treatment of one such danger must be treated a good deal more gently than the equivalent other.

Skeptics are drawn to compare the differentially harsh treatment of blacks convicted of crack cocaine use compared with the far more lenient treatment accorded to whites convicted of powder cocaine use.

Here in Utah we have practicing Mormons vs. gentiles. Arguments in favor of the .05 limit typically pointed to European countries, where .05 is the norm. But there it is also true that cell phone use while driving is subject to harsh penalties. For example, English soccer star David Beckham was fined £750 (nearly $1,000) and banned from driving for six months for using his cell phone while driving on Nov. 21, 2019.

Recall that before settling in Utah (which at the time was not part of the United States), Mormons had been driven first from Missouri, then Illinois. To what must have been the chagrin of Brigham Young and other church leadership figures, Utah territory soon became part of the USA, whose hostility to Mormonism is what drove them to Utah in the first place.

LDS Church doctrine makes formal the proposition that the man is head of a Mormon household. So why not amplify the church’s political clout by enfranchising women? The wife or wives of a Mormon man could be expected, reasonably, to vote in accordance with her husband’s wishes, thereby dramatically expanding the church’s political clout on the national stage.

Suffrage as evidence of especial respect for women’s equal rights? Certainly, the church leadership’s behavior since does nothing to corroborate that tempting presumption.

Tom Walker

Thomas (Tom) Walker is a native of Salt Lake City. After many years working in the hospitality industry, he went to work teaching skiing with Vail Resorts in Park City. An avid life long (so far) skier, he also is a board member of the Alta Historical Society.