Years ago I was standing in the Red Sox clubhouse speaking with Bruce Hurst, the nicest guy I ever met in baseball and a Mormon. We moved from topic to topic until a female reporter entered the room. Then Mr. Hurst’s jaw clenched and he let out an unintelligible howl of protest. On another occasion, asked if he had one recommendation for baseball, he said it was to keep women out of the clubhouse.
I don’t believe Mormons are consciously sexist or misogynistic, so let’s say gender imbalance is the Achilles’ heel of Mormonism. And though journalists rarely question Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican presidential nominee on the subject, there’s every reason to wonder if he supports the over-protectiveness that starts at the highest levels of Mormonism and works its way down through countless hard-working, clean-living, respectful people like Bruce Hurst.
A foundational Mormon treatise called The Family, a Proclamation to the World, proclaims: “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”
In a Pew Research Center survey released this January, Mormons overwhelmingly (58-38 per cent) felt that an ideal marriage is one in which the husband works and the wife stays home. Mormon women gave male-only priesthood 90 per cent approval. They routinely defer to the patriarchal Mormon hierarchy — a policy that comes with a price. While opposing out-of-wedlock births, abortion, and homosexuality and banning same-sex marriage, church leaders often act condescendingly toward women. None of which would tar Mr. Romney if he distanced his views from those of church leaders, and if his actions showed respect for women.
In The Real Romney, a book by Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, Mr. Romney was a bishop (congregation leader) and later a leader of collective congregations in the Boston area in the 1980s. When a divorced former Romney babysitter named Peggie Hayes became pregnant, Mr. Romney told her, according to her account, to give up her unborn child for adoption or risk excommunication. She had the child and eventually left the church. Mr. Romney says he never threatened Hayes.
When he was considering a run for Massachusetts governor in 2002, his wife Ann was already suffering from multiple sclerosis. Asked by a Globe reporter if she was worried about moving from Utah, where her symptoms had abated, she began, “It’s the one thing that’s keeping us . . . ”
Her husband interrupted: “Careful. Hold it. Don’t finish that sentence . . .”
But she went on, saying she had “huge qualms because I’ve been healthy out here.’”
Mitt had no qualms, moved the family to Massachusetts and was elected governor. In the current campaign, when Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke “a slut” and “a prostitute” after she supported insurance coverage for contraception, Mr. Romney issued the mildest of rebukes: “I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used.”
Mr. Romney told a Missouri TV station interviewer, “Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that.” He can’t do it singlehandedly, but he can threaten to cut off federal funds if the organization doesn’t stop providing abortions. This blackmail — there is no kinder, gentler word for it — endangers not only abortion rights but funding for birth control, pap smears, cervical examinations, tests for sexually-transmitted diseases and everything else Planned Parenthood does to serve women.
Mitt often lets Ann precede him to the podium and take the lead on women’s issues. She can’t do worse than he’s done. In one of the biggest deceptions her husband has issued, Mr. Romney asserted that women suffered 92.3 per cent of the jobs lost during the Obama administration. The claim conveniently uses data from the early, pre-stimulus days of the Obama administration and neglects to add that GOP state and local officials have been disproportionately responsible for women’s job losses over the years that followed.
Mr. Romney says Mormons should be judged on their behavior, not their beliefs. I agree. That’s why like many others I supported Mo Udall, a Mormon, when he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976. Mr. Romney doesn’t toe the Mormon line in every respect. He takes a tougher position on immigration and poverty than the church authority’s compassionate view. But when it comes to treating half the country’s population, which should be a signature issue in the campaign, he’s a good Mormon soldier in the Republican war on women.
Jim Kaplan lives in Northampton and Oak Bluffs; he is an author and former sportswriter and writes the bridge column for the Vineyard Gazette.