Leader’s Message – “ERA Now!” – March 2019

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.

Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

 

We women have been working for a long time to ratify this amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and we are running out of patience. Gaining suffrage in 1920 with ratification of the 19th Amendment did not guarantee us equal rights. Nor did the 14th Amendment, although it has sometimes been used for that purpose. The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia reminded us of its inadequacy. We comprise the majority of the citizenry and still do not enjoy the full benefits of citizenship.

 

Alice Paul, a women’s rights activist with three law degrees, wrote the original amendment in 1923. It was introduced that year and reintroduced at every congressional session for half a century. She rewrote it in 1943 (per the above text) using the language of the 19th Amendment. This version passed the Senate and House of Representatives by the required two-thirds majority on March 22, 1972 and was sent to the states for ratification. When the extended deadline of June 30, 1982 expired, only 35 of the necessary 38 states had ratified the amendment.

 

The text of the traditional ERA bill in the House of Representatives was changed in 2014 to specifically name women in the first section and to add “and the several States” in the second section to affirm enforcement by both federal and state levels of government. In the current session of Congress, bills have been introduced to override any deadline and affirm ratification when 38 states have ratified. These are related to a non-traditional route called the “three-state strategy,” advanced since 1994.

 

Based on this strategy, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA in March 2017, and Illinois the 37th state in May 2018. One more state is needed. Only one.

 

Why do we need the ERA? Because without it in the U.S. Constitution, statutes and case law advancing women’s rights are vulnerable to being ignored, weakened or reversed. Congress, the Administration, and the Supreme Court can all permit sex discrimination, and they have. Without the ERA, the words engraved above the entrance to the Supreme Court, “Equal Justice Under Law,” ring hollow.

 

An historical irony is that our constitution, based upon the confederacy formed among the Haudenosaunee (also known as Iroquois) nations of what is now New York State and the Canadian province of Quebec, excluded women, who were the leaders of these Indigenous people. This exclusion was highlighted in the first Women’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, NY on July 19 and 20, 1848. Earlier that summer Lucretia Mott had witnessed women involved in decision-making as the Seneca nation reorganized its governmental structure. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage specifically described the rights accorded Haudenosaunee women as proof that the subordinate position of white women was neither natural nor divinely inspired.

 

According to a recent poll commissioned by the ERA Coalition, 94 percent of Americans support equal rights for women, with support among young people, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans as high as 99 percent. Alas, 80 percent mistakenly believe that the Constitution already guarantees us equal rights.

 

We, women and men, must support passage of the ERA. We can do that by targeting the states that have not yet ratified it. Only one more is needed. Visit the National Organization for Women website at https://now.org/nap/era to learn more and take action.

 

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