General Conference Protest

Photo of a banner flown across the Salt Lake Valley. The plane tow was sponsored by Mormons for ERA and the banner reads, “ERA: The Pearl of Great Price.”
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Collection P0144, Box 1, Folder 18.)

LDS General Conference also became a regular protest site for MERA. General Conference occurs the first weekend in April and October, and it features talks from church leaders in four, two-hour sessions. There are additional separate sessions for priesthood holders—which are all men—and a session for women. General Conference is a time when members of the church listen to counsel and sustain church leaders. During the Saturday afternoon session of conference, a high-ranking church official reads the names of the general leadership. At this time, members in attendance are asked to raise their hand in a sustaining vote as a public sign of support for leaders. This action is not to be confused with a vote into office. A 2012 church magazine article clarifies that point with the following statement, “our sustaining is a vote of confidence in the person, because we recognize that he or she has been called of God through Priesthood leaders we sustain.”[1] Refusal to sustain church leaders is a public display of discontent with church leadership.

MERA January 1981 newsletter describing opposing votes at General Conference [Click to image enlarge.]
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Collection MSS 225, Box 3, Folder 1.)

3 Say “No!”

“We, as active members of the church, support and sustain Spencer Kimball as church president and religious leader. We also empathically state that we cannot, do not, and will not accept him as our unelected political leader.”[2]

“We find the ‘Equality Yes, ERA No’ catch-phrase to be empty double talk which when translated really means, ‘Equality No.’ ”[3]

MERA newsletter describing dissenting votes at General Conference. Notice the altered version of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the photo of Cheryl Dalton with chains around her neck. [Click image to enlarge.]
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Collection MSS 225, Box 3, Folder 1.)


Members of MERA refused to sustain church leaders in a number of General Conferences. On April 5, 1981, five women stood and yelled “no” when they took the Saturday morning session sustaining vote. The women released a statement saying, “we fully sustain and support President Kimball as the church’s religious leader. However, we want church leaders to know that we do not accept them as our unelected political leaders.” The women went on to explain that since the Church chose to become politically active, they in turn opened themselves up to “repeated and continuous political demonstrations opposing its anti-ERA policy at general, stake and ward conferences around the nation.” The women justified their actions explaining that, “we have followed our consciences and, after prayful [sic] consideration, have taken our stand at General Conference to vocally reject the political leadership and coercive acts of the First Presidency on the political issue of the Equal Rights Amendment.” One of the protesters, Ms. Bradford, demonstrated her commitment to the cause saying she was willing to be excommunicated over the ERA.[4]

[1] “We Sustain Our Leaders,” Ensign, March 2012, https://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/03/we-sustain-our-leaders?lang=eng.
[2] “Mormons for ERA Newsletter.” January 1981. MERA MSS 225, Box 3, Folder 1, USUSCA.
[3] “Mormons for ERA Newsletter.” January 1981.
[4] Tribune Staff Writer, “Sustaining Vote Gets 5 Nays at Conference,” Salt Lake Tribune, Sunday April 5, 1981. MERA MSS 225, Box 3, Folder 1, USUSCA.