Author: Cahill, Bernadette
Date published: September 1, 2011
Remember in January when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that his interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment - the equal protection clause - does not include discrimination against women? Logically, he's correct. And yet 75 percent of Americans still mistakenly believe that women have equal rights in the United States.
The move to pass an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was first launched in 1923 by Alice Paul. Congress passed the ERA in 1972 with the requirement that the measure be ratified by thirty-eight states within seven years. The deadline was later extended to ten years, and by 1982, thirty-five states had ratified. The deadline came and went, and while legislation to pass the ERA has been repeatedly reintroduced in Congress ever since, the United States still doesn't recognize equal rights for women in its Constitution.
This situation is a national failure. While it creates disabilities for both sexes, women still bear the greater burden. It denies them a key tool to fight unequal pay; they face penalties equally under the law, such as capital punishment, yet they don't enjoy equal rights; it's also an international disgrace, making a mockery of the United States' image as a beacon for human rights, even as our ambassadors have promoted equal rights for women in the constitutions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
On March 8, 2011, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D- Wis) introduced HJ Resolution 47, which would remove the deadline for ratification of the ERA and also clarifies that upon ratification by three more states, the Equal Rights Amendment would be added to the U.S. Constitution.
In June, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced HJ Resolution 61 to start the amendment process over. (A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate and thirty-eight states to ratify.)
On balance, starting over is the wrong direction, and HJ Resolution 47 (devised by the group United 4 Equality) is the measure preferred by most women. By removing the deadline from the 1972 bill, the thirty- five ratifications would stand, paving the way for faster ratification of this long-awaited improvement to our fundamental law. It also provides the possibility for women who fought for the ERA in the 1970s to witness the achievement of equal rights for the sexes during their lifetime.
Section one of the ERA states: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
States whose legislatures have not yet ratified the ERA are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.
Bernadette Cahill is a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, Arkansas, who specializes in women's issues.