by Cynthia Nimerichter
Several weeks ago, the Denver Post ran an article about the Equal Rights Amendment and the fact that it has never been ratified. In the 1970s, I marched in the streets in support of this measure but to date only 35 states ratified the proposed constitutional amendment. To become part of the U.S. Constitution, three more states would need to vote in favor of it.
I mentioned to a young friend that I had not given much thought to the ERA in many years. My 30-something friend’s response? “What is the ERA?” My friend is very politically savvy and more up-to-date than I am on legislation dealing with discrimination. But her response brought home to me that if the ERA is to ever pass, members of the old guard, including me, need to educate a new generation.
The ERA is fairly simple. Here is the proposal in full:
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.
This language would guarantee that the rights affirmed by the U.S. Constitution are held equally by all citizens without regard to sex. Sex would be considered a suspect classification, as race currently is.
The Equal Rights Amendment was written in 1923 by Alice Paul, a leader of the woman suffrage movement and a lawyer. It was introduced in Congress in the same year and subsequently reintroduced in every Congressional session for half a century. In 1972 it was finally sent to the states. The deadline for ratification has long passed but a bill is in Congress now, introduced in March of 2011, which would remove the deadline and allow the amendment to be accepted when three more states pass it.
Women have made great strides in recent decades. Yet women earned just 75 percent of men’s earnings in 2009. As stated in the article in the Denver Post, “In 1920, the 19th Amendment finally gave women the vote. Ninety years later, women still have to fight to prove we deserve the basic rights men simply inherit at birth.”
This was reinforced when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in September, 2010 in a speech at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law that the Constitution does not guarantee equal rights for women.
Colorado has a state ERA and we are one of the states to have ratified the national ERA. An Opinion Research Corporation poll commissioned in 2001 by the ERA Campaign Network shows that nearly all U.S. adults – 96% – believe that male and female citizens should have equal rights. The vast majority – 88% – also believe that the U.S. Constitution should make it clear that these rights are supposed to be equal. However, nearly three-quarters of the respondents – 72% – mistakenly assume that the Constitution already includes such a guarantee.
It is clear that the citizens of the United States overwhelmingly support a constitutional guarantee of equal rights on the basis of sex, and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment will achieve that goal.
After all, this is 2011. Can any reasonable person be against full equal rights for women? It does not seem possible but consider this: recently the Virginia Senate voted to become the 36th state to ratify the ERA. Days later, the bill died in the House of Delegates-in a subcommittee of seven men.
Cynthia Nimerichter is a motivational speaker, author and recovering attorney. She lives in Colorado Springs.
States which have not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment include: