Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendments think it will be tough enough taking on the Virginia General Assembly again this year, but Sonia Johnson has found herself in the uncomfortable position of taking on her church as well.
The 42-year-old Loudoun County homemaker and mother of four is a Mormon, and the Mormon Church has launched an unprecedented lobbying campaign to kill the constitutional amendment that she is working so hard to pass.
"This is the first time that so much pressure has been put on us to hold to the church's political stand," said Johnson, one of an estimated 25,000 Mormons in Virginia. "We have no desire to take on the church. We just want to pass the ERA."
The church, more formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has been involved in the Stop FRA movement nationally since October when its president and prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, termed the subject "a moral, rather than a political issue."
Many Mormons subsequently have organized to oppose the ERA, arguing that its passage will weaken the family by making women subject to the draft and by easing restrictions on abortion.
But a minority of Mormon men and women have risked what Johnson describes as "social ostracism" by forming Mormons for the ERA and showing up in Richmond and other state capitals to lobby for the legislation.
Ratification of the ERA is an issue that has been considered in legislative committees here for the past six years. A House committee killed the measure in the last session, and a Senate committee will hold a hearing on the proposed amendment Wednesday.
"We think we're within one vote of getting it out of committee," said Sen. Clive L. DuVal (D-Fairfax) the measure's sponsor.
DuVal hopes to persuade one or more committee members to send the amendment to the Senate floor "Where we have a majority by one or two votes" to pass it. But DuVal conceded the ERA issue would still have to face a House committee "that is much more hostile."
ERA opponents, including Mormons, "are using some of the same old canards, the same faulty arguments" in lobbying against the ERA, DuVal said."This measure has absolutely nothing to do with abortion or unisex bathrooms."
What the ERA is all about, according to Sonia Johnson, is the equality of men and women, "making us equal partners." And in some respects, she said, legislators who have resisted passing the ERA have a lot in common with the sexism of her church.
"In the church, the women do all the work, and the men have the offices and the responsibility They make all the decisions," Johnson said. "There are women's organizations who cannot raise money or control it. That's incredible in this day and age."
Comparing the "protective" nature of some anti-ERA lawmakers with church doctrune, Johnson said Mormon leaders "love us so much, they won't let women hold the priesthood. But I could be excommunicated for even discussing" that issue.
Karen Clifford, a member of Johnson's church in Sterling and a key coordinator of its anti-ERA lobbyists, said she has seen discrimination against women in the business world but thinks the problem is best solved on the state level.
She denied Johnson's assertion that Mormons were being pressured to oppose she ERA or that the church treats women members as subservient.
"I have held leadership positions, and I've submitted budgets to our bishop," Clifford said. "In every case of mine, he gave me more than I asked for."
Some legislators here talk about ERA literature in the same breath as they mention their junk mail, but Johnson said she has found those she has talked to attentive.
"I tell them I'm a Maromon and that I just want them to know that all Mormons aren't against the ERA," she said. She complained that many Mormon opponents of the amendment are failing to identify themselves for fear of lessening their impact on Assembly members."
"I don't think the legislators think they have to be told by our prophet what to do," she added.
Johnson's ERA stand has set her apart from most of her friends in the church, "since that's where most of my friends were." But she plans to persist.
Noting the recent revelation by the church's prophet -- in which it was decided to elevate blacks to positions of leadership -- Johnson said she is optimistic for the future.