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U.S. Constitution

Federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)

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The ERA is a proposed amendment to the federal Constitution that would guarantee equal rights and privileges for both men and women in the U.S., in such areas as divorce, property ownership, employment, etc. Its original draft version was written by Crystal Eastman (1881-1928).

In 1910, Eastman had written a report titled Work Accidents and the Law, and had drafted the first U.S. workers' compensation law for New York State. She co-founded both the the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the American Union Against Militarism. She was once called the "most dangerous woman in America" because of her progressive activities promoting equality and peace.

She joined with Alice Paul and others to promote the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which gave women the right to vote. It was passed in 1920. Eastman and Paul then wrote a proposed Equal Rights Amendment in 1923 to guarantee equal treatment and rights of women and men in the U.S.

Eastman was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY during the year 2000. 1

The Guardian described her as "the mother of the Equal Rights Amendment," commenting:

The weapons she deployed during her 10-term congressional career included implacable determination, a lawyer's grasp of procedural niceties, and a tongue like a blacksmith's rasp." 2

She introduced the ERA to Congress during 1923-DEC. However, because it would wipe out preferential legal protections for working womens' employment hours and working conditions, it was originally opposed by many women. The ERA remained stalled in the House Judiciary Committee for 47 years!

Martha Griffiths (D) was a Representative of Michigan's 17th District in the U.S. House of Representatives (1955-1974) and a later a Lieutenant Governor of Michigan (1983-1991). She reintroduced the ERA in Congress during 1970. It was passed by the House with a vote of 346 to 15! The Senate also approved it in 1972. It was then sent to the individual states for ratification. As of early 2018, it had been ratified by 35 states, three short of the 38 states required before it would come into effect and be added to the U.S. Constitution.

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2017-MAR-21: Nevada becomes the 36th state to ratify the ERA:

Four decades after Indiana's approval of the ERA in 1977, Nevada's Legislature followed suit. They ratified the ERA on the anniversary of the date that Congress had passed it.

Governor Brian Sandoval (R) supported the ERA. However, his signature was not needed on the Legislature decision.

Many conservatives consider that the state's action is not constitutional because Congress had imposed a 35 year deadline for states to ratify the ERA. That deadline passed in 1979, but was later changed to 1982.

However, state Senator Pat Spearman (D), said that the deadline:

"... was in the resolving clause, but it wasn't a part of the amendment that was proposed by Congress. That's why the time limit is irrelevant." 3

Presumably, Congress could change the deadline again in the future.

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2018-MAY-30: Illinois becomes the 37th state to ratify the ERA:

The Illinois Senate ratified the federal ERA almost a half century after it was approved by Congress. The vote was 72 to 45. State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D) of Oswego said:

"I am appalled and embarrassed that the state of Illinois has not done this earlier. I am proud to be on this side of history and I am proud to support not only all the women that this will help, that this will send a message to, but I am also here to be a role model for my daughter."

Rick Pearson & Bill Kukitsch, writing for the Chicago Tribune, said:

"As has been the case for decades, the legislative debate over the Equal Rights Amendment was fraught with controversy. Opponents largely contended the measure was aimed at ensuring an expansion of abortion rights for women. Supporters said it was needed to give women equal standing in the nation’s founding document. ..."

"Opponents also contended the measure may be moot, since its original 1982 ratification deadline has long since expired. Supporters argued, however, that the 1992 ratification of the 1789 “Madison Amendment,” preventing midterm changes in congressional pay, makes the ERA a legally viable change to the constitution."

State Rep. Peter Breen (R) said that the ERA is “an alleged constitutional amendment” and that adopting it would be illegal. But Breen also contended supporters “have no other thing they want to do” than expand abortion rights. "It will expand taxpayer funding of abortions, very well might roll back our parental notice (for minors to have an abortion) law and have other negative impacts on various abortion regulations."

Webmaster's comment:

Various federal and state laws cover women's abortions and define when they can simply choose to obtain one legally and when a state can apply restrictions on the women's choice. I don't see how the ERA would impact abortion access. It would treat men equally to women, and thus would reinforce the right of FTM transgender persons -- those identified at birth with a female biological gender who later self-identify as male. However, they probably consist of only about 0.3% of the population.

State Rep. Steve Anderson (R) disagreed, saying that it:

"... isn’t about those distractions. This is about who we are as a people. This is about who we believe the state of Illinois is and should be, going forward. But it’s more than just the state of Illinois. It’s about the United States of America and quite frankly, I believe it’s about the planet. I believe it’s about how we treat women and men."

State Rep. Lou Lang (D) who sponsored the ERA in the Illinois House, said:

"This is about the United States Constitution. ... And half the people in this country aren’t in it. They aren’t included in the United States Constitution. Isn’t that enough for you to realize the historic moment and step back from predispositions you’ve had and your heels dug in the ground on this issue and that issue and the other issue?"

Christine Winger (D) of Wood Dale in DuPage County, IL, said:

"I am pro-life. Again, I am pro-life. I’m a mother of a 2-year-old daughter. I am for her and others to know in the state of Illinois she should have the same opportunities as men. Vote yes.”

State Rep. Litesa Wallace, (D) who is an African-American woman from Rockford, linked her support for the ERA to the battle for civil rights in previous decades. She said:

I’m the daughter of a man who was born on a plantation. I’m the granddaughter of a woman who left the South to come to Chicago for opportunity but never found it because of her race and her gender. I stand here a single mother who has survived damn near anything you can think of, and I mean that quite literally. 4

Geoffrey Stone is a professor at the University of Chicago who specializes in constitutional law. He is uncertain whether Illinois' passage of the ERA amendment is constitutional. He said:

"... there’s an obvious right or wrong answer. ... [ratification of the amendment] would make some difference in marginal cases where the law allows discrimination today ... [and] lock in many of the federal protections women have gained over the decades." 3

"The main reason for adopting the Equal Rights Amendment today, if one could legally [and] constitutionally do it, would be the symbolic importance of it. The rejection of it is in some ways insulting. So, the symbolic importance of it is to who we are as a nation — what our aspirations are, what our values are. That in itself is an important affirmation of who we are." 3

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2018-DEC to late 2019: Potential ratification process in Virginia:

Before the ERA can become effective, three quarters of the states -- 38 in total -- must ratify it. As of 2019-NOV, only one more state is needed. Virginia may become that state!

An ERA promotion group in Virginia, called VA ratify ERA, reported that on 2018-DEC-05, the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University released data from the Center's poll of Virginia voters. VA ratify ERA said:

"Consistent with ​national polling​, the Equal Rights Amendment enjoyed exceptionally strong support amongst Virginians. ... Virginians (81%) favor Virginia’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment ... The citizens of the Commonwealth have spoken loudly in favor of constitutional gender equality." 7

A few years previously, Kamala Lopez founded a group "Equal Means Equal," to encourage the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Co-director, Natalie White, led a 250 mile march in 2016 between New York City and Washington to promote the Amendment. The group issued a documentary called "Equal Means Equal" which received the "Best US Documentary Audience Award" at the Traverse City Film Festival in 2016.

Both directors moved to Virginia to promote the ERA.

During an interview with Women’s eNews, Kamala said:

"You must care about this, and you must care about this right now. If you consider yourself a feminist, you need to put your skin in the game." 5

However, on 2019-FEB-21, the Republican controlled Virginia House of Delegates rejected a motion to discuss the ERA.

On Election Day, 2019-NOV-05, Virginia voters elected a number of candidates who support ratifying the ERA. Many Democratic candidates had made the ERA a focus of their election campaigns. Democrats are now in control of both the state House (54 to 43 seats) and Senate (21 to 19 seats). The Governor is also a Democrat. The Legislature is expected to vote on the ERA during 2020-JAN.

Voters in Virginia will hold a plebiscite to decide whether to ratify the ERA on 2019-DEC-05. 6,7

Many observers expect Virginia to become the 39th state to ratify the ERA. Whether Congress will extend the amendment deadline and cause the ERA to become the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- the third amendment in the past 50 years -- is uncertain. There are two major hurdles that would have to be overcome: approval by the Senate and President Trump's signature.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyper links are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Crystal Eastman," Wikipedia, as on 2019-OCT-07, at: http://Wikipedia/
  2. "Martha Griffiths," Oituarly, The Guardian, 2003-APR-29, at: https://www.theguardian.com/
  3. Colin Dwyer, "Nevada Ratifies The Equal Rights Amendment ... 35 Years After The Deadline," National Public Radio, 2017-MAR-21, at: https://www.npr.org/
  4. Rick Pearson & Bill Kukitsch, "Illinois approves Equal Rights Amendment, 36 years after deadlineIllinois approves Equal Rights Amendment, 36 years after deadline," Chicago Tribune, 2018-MAY-31, at: https://www.chicagotribune.com/
  5. Tatyana Turner, "Passing the ERA: Countdown to Virginia," Women's eNews, 2019-OCT-14, at: https://womensenews.org/
  6. "More Virginians want to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment than want a tax cut!," VA ratify ERA, undated, at: https://varatifyera.org/
  7. "Virginia, Let's Make History!," VA ratify ERA, undated, at: https://varatifyera.org/ This downloads a PDF file of a public opinion poll.
  8. Emily Peck, "One Step Closer", Huffpost, 2019-NOV-06, at:

Emily Peck

 

 

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Copyright © 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2019-OCT-18
Latest update: 2019-NOV=07
Author: B.A. Robinson
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