In the recent documentary film RBG, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg supports the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) because, “every constitution in the world written since the year 1950 has the equivalent of a statement that men and women are people of equal citizen stature.” The Constitution of the United States is the exception. However, Nevada’s ratification of the ERA in March 2017, followed by Illinois last May 30, 2018, moved the U.S. Constitution closer to the 38 states necessary to mandate equal rights for women and men under the law. We need only one more state.
The language of the ERA is clear: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” It was written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman in 1923, passed by Congress in 1972, and sent to the states for ratification. The recent Women’s March and #MeToo movement have demonstrated a higher public understanding of the lack of safety and equality that exists for women today and have increased the desire for tangible action that would allow for the legal adjudication of rights violations. Passage of the ERA is paramount to guaranteeing legal equality for both women and men.
Why we need the Equal Rights Amendment:
• Women are not equal under the law because the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly guarantee equality of all rights for all citizens without regard to sex. The Constitution only specifically affirms equal rights for women and men to vote (19th Amendment, 1920).
• The 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause (1868) does not guarantee equal rights in the same way the ERA would, and since 1971 it has only been applied to sex discrimination. Currently, if a woman has been treated unequally, she must prove intent to do her harm or treat her unequally. Intent is very difficult to prove and easy to deny.
• We need the ERA’s protection against a rollback of the significant advances in women’s rights achieved over the past half century. The ERA would make it more difficult for lawmakers and judges to reverse progress already made in eliminating sex discrimination so we won’t have to fight for the same things over and over.
• The ERA will set a norm for equal pay and provide a basis for litigation and legislation to extend the same pay entitlements to women and men in all states. Until we have the ERA, women must continue to fight long, expensive, and difficult political and legal battles to ensure that our rights are equal to rights automatically held by men, as well as the protected class status based on race.
• The United States needs the ERA in order to maintain global legitimacy with respect to equal justice under the law. The governing documents of many other countries, however imperfectly implemented, specifically affirm legal equality of women and men, and so must ours.
“If there’s ever been a time that people can see they make different legislation for women than for men, we see that now,” said Molly Murphy MacGregor, head of the Women’s History Project. In the ongoing effort to promote equality between women and men, an Equal Rights Amendment would send a clear message that sex equality is a fundamental human right in the United States, recognized and enforceable as such at the highest level of its law.
Go to the ERA Coalition and the groups that make up the National Council of Women’s Organizations. Support their ongoing equality efforts. Step up when legislation to ratify the ERA comes up in one of these (most likely to ratify) states: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. Make phone calls, and stand with these voters and legislators who vote for ratification. Do this for all the women in our country. It is only fair.
The authors, Kathy Burba, Pam Flynt Tambo, Lisa Guravitz, and Elizabeth Robinson, are members of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee which will celebrate its 30th anniversary with an event on October 19.