OK Millennials, we're winning the fight
By Jean Godden
While Seattle voters were obsessed, watching local election returns, something surprising was happening on the other side of the country. Democrats were taking control of the Virginia State Legislature, a key to winning final approval of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
Virginia can now ratify the ERA, making it the 38th state, the last vote needed for three-fourth states' approval of the amendment. It has been a long, hard-fought struggle, a hundred-year fight.
The drive to approve the amendment began in 1919 when the 19th Amendment (votes for women) was passing. It was time to celebrate, but Suffragist Alice Paul wanted full equality for women. She and Crystal Eastman of the National Women's Party authored the ERA and managed to get it introduced to Congress in 1923.
The amendment's main section is simple and clear cut: "Equal Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." In other words, women would no longer be second-class citizens.
After introduction, the ERA languished in Congress, almost forgotten. It wasn't until 1971 when Rep. Martha Griffith, a Michigan Democrat, convinced her colleagues to pull the amendment from the crusty House Judiciary Committee. Then things began to happen. With firebrands like Gloria Steinem and Betty Freidan stirring women's liberation, timing seemed right.
The amendment quickly got House approval on Oct. 12, 1971; Senate approval came in March, 1972. States rushed to ratify the amendment. Washington state (number 30) ratified in March, 1973. It seemed women would win equal rights at last.
Then opposition struck. Conservative groups, led by the late Phyllis Schlafy, an Illinois lawyer/housewife, said the ERA would lead to all manner of ills: Co-ed restrooms, women being drafted, same-sex marriage and women denied alimony and child custody. Fearmongering defeated ratification in several states, including Schlafy's home state of Illinois.
Ratification stalled at 35 states, short of the 38 needed. Time extensions -- Congress granted seven years and then added three more -- didn't help. The ERA seemed dead, equal rights denied.
Recently, however, thanks to women's marches and the big pink wave in midyear elections, there has been a reawakening. Nevada and Illinois ratified, bringing the total to 37 states, leaving only one more needed. Last January, the Virginia Senate approved, but GOP lawmakers in the House of Deputies defeated the move. Things looked bleak in remaining holdout states, mostly in the South.
Now, with Virginia back in play, Democratic presidential candidates are stepping all over themselves to voice support for ERA passage. In Congress, House Democrats have introduced a bill removing the earlier deadline. One problem: both the House and Senate would have to vote to eliminate the deadline. In the Senate, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Maryland's Benjamin Cardin are co-sponsoring a companion measure, although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made the Senate a graveyard for progressive legislation.
In recent years, women have come almost as far under the 14th amendment as under ERA. Legislators have passed a bevy of laws opening doors for women. Social changes have transformed our lives leaving old opposition points no longer at issue (Same-sex marriage? Women in the military?)
Advocates, however, point to gaps in existing laws and Supreme Court decisions that have limited enforcement particularly in areas of domestic violence, sexual harassment and equal pay. The lack of constitutional pay protection has fed the gender pay gap. At its present pace, men and women will achieve pay equity in two centuries.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has worked a lifetime to expand equal rights, has said, "I would like to be able to take out my pocket Constitution and say that the equal citizenship stature of men and women is a fundamental tenet of our society like free speech."
People -- men and women alike -- would be better off if our Constitution, our fundamental law, would simply say "no discrimination of the basis of sex."
Sorry, but wrong. You are assuming that women are the routine victims of discrimination, which they are not. The pay gap is a myth and explained by jobs that men take are generally higher paid. But that is disappearing as women are venturing into field traditionally held by men. Women now outnumber men in professional schools, by the way.
These laws simply spawn a whole industry of courts, lawyers, advocates, etc eager to drum up some perceived "injustice."
Soon, everyone will be a whining victim in America.
Hi John - Equality is not a feeling. Equality should be protected by law. While I respect that due to your specific world view, you feel that men and women are equal, as I said before, equality is NOT a feeling. The ERA will ensure that all people feel equal and are constitutionally equal :)