Like many other families across America, the Warners of Virginia today found themselves in sharp disagreement on the issue of draft registration, women and equal rights.
But when Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, got into the debate it quickly took on a tone that halted conversation among 110 Republicans gathered here this weekend for the Tidewater Conference, an unofficial policy forum for elected GOP officials and their spouses.
As officials at other tables cocked their ears and reporters clustered around, Warner tried to end the argument by silencing his wife with a wave of his hand.
"Don't you steady me with that all-domineering hand of yours," the movie star said.
"I'm sorry," the senator said, "but you don't have a vote on this issue."
"Well, you invited me here," she replied.
The argument at the table began when Rep. Margaret M. Heckler (R-Mass.) said she opposed registration of women until the Equal Rights Amendment is in force.
With Elizabeth Warner murmuring agreement, Heckler challenged Rep. Robert McClory (R-Ill.), who said, "I don't see how you can support ERA without [first] supporting equal registration."
John Warner interrupted that debate to read a resolution he had drafted opposing reimposition of the draft but supporting a renewal of registration -- provided women were excluded. Noting that he was chairman of the "Abe, Lincoln table," as that particular cluster of officials was titled, the senator said he believed the Great Emancipator would have taken the same view.
"Abe Lincoln?" said his wife, incredulously. "How many years do you want to go back?"
The senator observed -- for the first time, but not the last -- that spouses were part of the conference but did not have a vote. He said that testimony before the Armed Services Committee on which he serves, indicated women "are volunteering for more jobs than the services have to give them."
"What kind of jobs are those?" Elizabeth Warner asked.
"I'm proud to say that when I was secretary of the Navy." Warner replied, "I opened up many more jobs to women than they had ever held before." r
"Rosie-the-Riveter jobs," Elizabeth Warner said, acidly.
Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) imprudently entered the family argument to observe that excluding women from the registration requirement would "discriminate in their favor."
"It all depends on the way you look at it," said Elizabeth Warner.
"Now, Liz, hold on here," John Warner said.
Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) said he thought the registration issue should not be confused with the problem of "alleged discrimination" against women.
"Alleged discrimination?" Elizabeth Warner said. "Did you say alleged discrimination?"
It was at this point that the senator motioned his wife to be silent and she told him to drop his "all-domineering hand."
A few minutes later, Elizabeth Warner observed that her own reading of history was that "women have been in active combat since Year One." She mentioned the role of women leaders from Cleopatra to Margaret Thatcher, and said she saw no reason why women should not be free to volunteer for combat duty. "Equal rights means equal responsibilities," she said.
The senator, who had gone to another table momentarily to confer on his resolution, came back and asked what she had been saying in his absence.
"That's for me to know and you to find out," she said.
But in this case, the senator had the last word. By an overwhelming vote, the conferees rejected the idea of inclusion of women in draft registration.