John F. Kennedy, one of the first Catholic candidates for the presidency of the United States, was asked if elected, who or what would be his moral and legal authority: the Pope or the Constitution? His answer was the latter.
Mitt Romney, if elected, will be the first Mormon president of the United States. If asked the same question (using Prophet instead of Pope) would his life-long faith be his guiding principle in terms of his behavior and attitude towards women?
From the top down and since its inception, the hierarchy of the Mormon Church has been male-dominated, elitist, monied, powerful and insular. Romney’s patriarchal, dynastic family can be traced back four generations, and from a young age, he was instilled with the teachings, discipline and training, of devout Mormons, doctrines that he and his family still hold primary.
What is the role of a woman in a Mormon society?
According to Jessica Longlaker in 1996, “The Mormon church of today is still clinging to the beliefs of the nineteenth century … Men and women cannot truly become equal in the church, for the basic tenets of Mormonism are so fraught with sexism that equality would change the religion beyond recognition.”
Men are valued more highly than women. A Mormon woman should be a stay-at-home mom, and have as many children as possible. Her husband is her spiritual, economic and social leader. If he isn't happy once married, it is his wife’s fault. Single or divorced women are looked upon with disdain. A woman’s young sons can theoretically advise and counsel her.
There are no clergy in the Mormon church. Women can hold no official position in the church, such as a “ward bishop”(male-only head of one congregation, whose role is similar to a lay minister and counselor to his flock) or “stake president”(higher than a bishop who is head of a number of congregations, like a diocese).
As Romney was building his career as a captain of industry, he continued to climb the church ladder during the 1980s and mid1990s. Later, he would resign his active leadership responsibilities and turn his attention to politics. However, his identification with Mormonism has never diminished.
Recalling her televised Massachusetts gubernatorial debate in 2002 with Republican candidate Mitt Romney, Shannon O’Brien, his Democratic opponent, recently commented that he hasn’t changed his position or his politics on women in the 10 years since she sparred with him. From her vantage point, he is as condescending and dismissive of women as ever.
O’Brien, a former Massachusetts state treasurer, Yale graduate and lawyer, had pressed Romney during the debate to reconcile his simultaneous pro-life position in Utah with his pro-choice position in Massachusetts.
She asked why had he accepted the conservative pro-life endorsement from the Massachusetts Citizens for Life when he was running on a pro-choice campaign.Knowing that the group would have never endorsed him if they thought he was pro-choice, she wondered how could he account for their endorsement and his acceptance of the endorsement. Did he tell them something that he hadn’t shared with the general public?
Romney responded, "Your effort to continue to try and create fear and deception is unbecoming."
O’Brien said that if you want to know Romney the man and the sexist, take a look at his record as a Mormon ward bishop.
In 1983, a Mormon woman with four children, Carrel Hilton Sheldon, was expecting her fifth when she developed a blood clot in her pelvic region. Doctors advised her to abort, as her life was in danger. Her doctors said the procedure would save her life, enabling her to raise her four children.
Uninvited, Bishop Romney visited her. He told her that she should not have an abortion, and that he was there to protect her unborn fetus. Sheldon had hoped she would get support and consolation from Romney. Instead, she said, “I got judgment, criticism, prejudicial advice and rejection.”
Romney pursued his cause and visited Sheldon’s parents. In a 2010 interview with R.B. Scott, author of Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and his Politics, Sheldon’s father Phil Hilton said that Romney is ‘“an authoritative man who thinks he is in charge of the world.” Carrel Sheldon had the baby and left the Church.
In 1984, Romney again tried to force his authority on a Mormon woman, Peggie Hayes, who had one daughter and had recently given birth to a second child, Dane. Because Hayes was single and divorced, Romney came to see her and told her that she should give her baby up for a Mormon adoption. If she didn’t do it, he threatened to have the church excommunicate her. She didn’t listen to him, and left the Mormon church to raise her son.
During the second presidential debate moderated by CNN’s Candy Crowley, Romney was asked about pay inequity for women who currently make 72 cents to the male dollar. He had no direct answer. Instead, he talked about his commitment to women when he was governor. He said that after the election his staff reached out to women’s organizations for qualified women for his cabinet and other leadership positions, and that he received the now-infamous , “binders of women.”
MassGAP, a bi-partisan coalition of women’s organizations who pressure governors to appoint qualified women for cabinet and senior executive positions, dispelled his fibs. They reported that Romney had not reached out to them. Rather, they had sent the same material to O’Brien and the other candidates before the election.
There is a thread that holds these anecdotes together. It ranges from Romney’s consistent insensitivity to women to his view that women should follow the Mormon doctrine. If elected, Romney has promised to defund Planned Parenthood, repeal Roe v Wade and nominate anti-abortion Supreme Court justices, taking away a woman’s right to choose. His religious views will directly impact his presidency, as his religious views have already shaped his leadership, particularly when it comes to women.