From Housewives to Protesters: Mormons for the ERA: MERA Temple Protests
MERA Temple Protests
On November 17, 1980, twenty Mormon women and one man were arrested on criminal trespassing charges after chaining themselves to the Seattle Washington Temple gate. The news media covered the event extensively due to the shocking photos of middle-aged housewives, covered in large chains, holding protest signs, and being escorted to police cars. These women were part of the group Mormons for the Equal Rights Amendment and were protesting The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ opposition to the ERA.
The Seattle Washington Temple protest is one of the most widely known MERA demonstrations because of the extensive press coverage it garnered due to the arrest of twenty women and one man. However, their arrest did not mark the first demonstration at this temple. The group had begun a widely promoted weekly picketing campaign months prior to their arrest during the temple dedication. An LDS temple dedication is a special ceremony in which the leaders of the LDS Church give the temple to God and thereafter only allow worthy church members who obtain temple recommends from their leaders to enter. The LDS temple dedication is an important ceremony for church members. With MERA’s protests taking place during the dedication, it escalated the importance of the protest among church members.
“The guard came at us and beat us down on the pavement on a public street—to our absolute delight the press was there.”
—Arlene Wood, MERA Leadership
The protest was not a peaceful event and was rife with accounts of a temple guard assaulting protesters. Arlene Wood describes her encounter with the temple guard in the Great Falls Tribune and states, “the guard came at us and beat us down on the pavement on a public street—to our absolute delight the press was there.” MERA leadership understood the power of the media and made efforts to attract media attention at every protest, keeping extensive records of the protest, attendees, their methods, and which media outlets covered the event.
“Don’t you think it’s illegal that these women are keeping us kidnaped in here?”
—Vernon Ganatt, LDS Temple Attendee
Protests were not limited to the Seattle Washington Temple; they also occurred at the Washington D.C. Temple. On January 9, 1982, members of MERA chained themselves to the Washington D.C. Temple gates, blocking access to the parking lot for one hour until the temple president came out to meet them. Sonia Johnson, the president of MERA, said, “we’ve locked the gates and no one will get in until the president of the temple, Wendell Eames, comes out to listen to us.” Protesters successfully earned a conversation with Eames and their actions resulted in no arrests. Vernon Ganatt, one temple attendee stuck behind the gates and unable to leave asked, “don’t you think it’s illegal that these women are keeping us kidnaped in here?” He then added, “if these women knew anything about the Mormon religion they wouldn’t be here. Mormon women have more freedom than any others, because they’re married to their husbands for eternity. That’s all they need.”