The ERA Does What the Constitution Does Not Do: Make Women Equal to Men
by Bernie P Dixon
Virginia Becomes 38th State to Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment
Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA will do what the Constitution currently does not do: guarantee that women are equal to men. What’s particularly significant about the 38th state ratifying the ERA is that any constitutional amendment must be approved by three fourths of all states, which is 38 since Hawaii entered the union in 1959. (Coincidentally, Hawaii was the first state to ratify ERA.) Proponents of the ERA contend that it would guarantee that states must intervene in matters of “gender-based violence and harassment, ensure protections for pregnant women and mothers, and guarantee equal pay.”
I had to research this history to confirm that the ERA was first introduced by Alice Paul in 1923. Yes, almost 100 years ago the suffragists led by Alice Paul proposed that “men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.”
Despite its introduction in 1923, and its reintroduction to Congress every year thereafter, it didn’t pass until 1972. By that time, it had to be rewritten to say, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” A slew of 35 states swiftly ratified it but it fell short of the required 38.
Millennials did not witness the movement in the 1970s with Phyllis Schlafly and her conservative Christian anti-feminist movement who strongly lobbied against it, stoking fears about the loss of traditional family values. Some conservative legislators balked, and the ERA fell three states short of ratification. I remember during my college days and training to be the first class to include females being commissioned as Army officers how odd the argument was. I thought I was proof that women could be equal to men.
My belief is that something about the current sociopolitical climate -- the #MeToo movement, the erosion of abortion rights and a conservative Supreme Court—has brought the issue to the forefront once again and is energizing new activists to more boldly push for women’s rights. Bipartisanship is rampant and yet there is a generation of Americans that through their lack of exposure to the 70s controversies, most likely consider this a common-sense issue rather than a political issue. They may recognize that there is intolerance or favoritism toward demographic groups, religious groups, political leanings, skin color or creed but truly, at the base of all this has to be the realization that we are all equal humans. This same generation may not recognize that these biases can have their roots in the basic tenants of the US Constitution if merely by omitting a statement of equality.
There could still be hurdles
Despite achieving the 38-state ratification milestone, automatic ratification is not guaranteed. There are two major hurdles. One: The deadline set for approval by 1982 has passed. Two: Some states have withdrawn their approval. Neither is straightforward and there are legal and political barriers to be addressed. ERA supporters argue that Congress could extend or overrule the 1982 deadline. (Some efforts to do this have previously failed.) Some supporters have also challenged the idea that there can even be a deadline for ratifying an amendment, a question that could be settled in court.
I know many of our readers are residents of Georgia and may be interested in the support for ERA within the state. Regrettably, Georgia is not among the 38 states that have gone on to ratify the ERA. There is a twisted and somewhat hilarious history. At one point in the 1970s, A group of activist women in Georgia dubbed themselves the “bread bakers” sent loaves of bread to the male legislators who they called the “breadwinners” to thank them for not supporting ERA. Bless their hearts.
This is op-ed written by Bernie P. Dixon, Founder and Chairman of Launchpad2X, an accelerator training organization for women entrepreneurs.
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