The ERA is still needed

Why is the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the news, what is it and why should anyone care?

The ERA is in the news thanks to Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel of the Justice Department issuing a memo with a finding that the deadline for ratification had expired. He stated, “Because three-fourths of the state legislatures did not ratify before the deadline that Congress imposed, the Equal Rights Amendment has failed of adoption.’

When was the ERA proposed? In 1920, just after the 19th Amendment was ratified, establishing that gender could not be used to deny citizens‘ the right to vote — the only law that protects women’s rights in our Constitution.

What does the ERA state? “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to equal rights for men and women. Article-Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” In 1972, the ERA was passed with two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate and was sent to the states for ratification. It needed three-fourths of the states to sign on in order to become part of the Constitution.

Twenty-eight states had ratified the amendment in 1972, when Phyllis Schlafly entered the picture. As a staunch conservative, professional working woman, she decided to organize against the ratification of the ERA. The irony of Schlafly was her opposition to women working outside the home, arguing the ERA would make women eligible for military draft, deprive them of separate restrooms and “dependent wife” benefits under Social Security.

She ignored real issues that women in the 1970’s faced: obtaining a credit card required a male co-signer and unmarried women were unable to obtain birth control.

Schlafly’s campaign slowed the momentum but seven more states ratified the amendment for a total of 35, while another five states rescinded their ratification’s. The amendment was initially set to be ratified by 1979 but in 1978 Congress extend the deadline to 1982. Recent ratifications of the ERA by Nevada in 2017 and Illinois in 2018 were properly recorded by the Trump administration.

Also making news, as a result of the 2019 elections: Virginia’s legislature is planning to become the 38th state required for the ERA to become a part of the Constitution.

Why do we still need the ERA? Some state and federal laws do cover gender equality issues but adding the amendment to the Constitution would give equal rights between sexes the highest possible legal protection against discrimination in the workplace and protections against gender violence. Women who are not paid an equal salary suffer a reduced standard of living, reduced savings for retirement and reduced Social Security benefits. Laws can be changed with new administrations, it’s difficult to undo a Constitutional Amendment.

The prospect of ratification by the 38th state is why the Justice Department took an unfavorable position on the status of the ERA. Engel’s legal opinions have been wrong before when he determined that the U.S. Treasury didn’t have to turn over President Trump’s tax returns to Congress. Engel has lost every court ruling on this issue.

If a legal remedy to the deadline is needed, Congress could pass a bill in both the House and Senate to remove the deadline. The deadline may not be an issue, since it was never voted on and was only part of the preamble. Rescission of a state’s ratification has never been accepted as valid.

Why women should care? Because we still have Representatives like Anthony Sabatini who oppose the ERA, telling women they couldn’t be paid more than a man. True equal pay for equal work, is the point. But since the ERA is gender neutral a man could file a claim for equal pay, wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?

It’s long over due, for women to use their vote, on this one hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment to our U.S. Constitution for women to finally have ‘equal justice under the Law’ in a Constitutional amendment.




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