They’re back; ERA ac­tivists were re­vived by sea change in Congress

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Ch­eryl Wet­zstein

The Demo­cratic takeover of Congress should re­vive in­ter­est in an is­sue many Amer­i­cans think is set­tled — adop­tion of the Equal Rights Amend­ment — as new bi­par­ti­san groups pur­sue the Repub­li­can-lean­ing states needed for its rat­i­fi­ca­tion.

“I think a great way to com­mem­o­rate the el­e­va­tion of the first wo­man speaker would be to el­e­vate all women in the Con­sti­tu­tion,” said Rep. Robert E. An­drews, New Jer­sey Demo­crat and one of nearly 200 ERA pro­po­nents in the House.

Sup­port­ers say that de­spite ad­vance­ments for women’s rights since the ERA’s of­fi­cial death in 1982 — pri­mar­ily pro­hi­bi­tions against sex dis­crim­i­na­tion — the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment is needed be­cause women lag in ca- reer ad­vance­ment and pay eq­uity.

In 1972, for in­stance, the ra­tio of fe­male-to-male earn­ings for full­time, year-round work was 58 cents on the dol­lar. Last year, it was 77 cents on the dol­lar, ac­cord­ing to Cen­sus Bureau data.

“The equal treat­ment of women should be made a pil­lar of our so­ci­ety,” said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Demo­crat. “Un­like

un­der the pre­vi­ous ma­jor­ity, I think we will at least have a dis­cus­sion of rights that should ex­ist and that most peo­ple in fact be­lieve are al­ready in the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

The one-sen­tence ERA — “Equal­ity of rights un­der the law shall not be de­nied or abridged by the United States or by any state on ac­count of sex” — has been pro­moted since the 1920s to en­sure that women are treated on an equal ba­sis with men, es­pe­cially in the work­place.

The ERA was passed by Congress in 1972 but de­clared dead on June 30, 1982, when only 35 of the 38 nec­es­sary states rat­i­fied it.

Now ac­tivists are work­ing to get three more state leg­is­la­tures to rat­ify the ERA, and they ex­pect a Demo­crat-led Congress and his­tor­i­cal prece­dent to en­sure its en­act­ment.

“OncetheAmer­i­can­pub­li­cre­ally wantsit,itwill­be­had,”saidJen­nifer Macleod,na­tion­al­co­or­di­na­to­rofthe ERA Cam­paign Net­work.

The ra­tio­nale be­hind this “three­state strat­egy” is that Congress ac­cepted the 27th “Madi­son” Amend­ment,which­con­cern­scon­gres­sional pay in­creases, af­ter a 203-year rat­i­fi­ca­tion pe­riod and can there­fore ac­cept more ERA rat­i­fi­ca­tions even af­ter the dead­line.

To which leg­endary ERA op­po­nent Phyl­lis Sch­lafly said: “I think they are dream­ing. I think they’re beat­ing a dead horse.”

Op­po­nents, led by Mrs. Sch­lafly, founderofEa­gleFo­rum,helpedsink theERAwith­warn­ingsaboutamil­i­tary draft for women, uni­sex toi­lets, same-sex “mar­riage,” and loss of fam­ily and work­place pro­tec­tions for wives, moth­ers and wi­d­ows.

The ERA has its vet­eran sup­port­ers, such as the Na­tional Coun­cil of Women’s Or­ga­ni­za­tions. But in re­cent years, at least two new groups have emerged with the mis­sion of get­ting three more state rat­i­fi­ca­tions.

The two new groups are pur­pose­fully bi­par­ti­san, rec­og­niz­ing that Repub­li­can ERA sup­port is a ne­ces­sity:Ofthe15un­rat­i­fied­states, Illi­nois is the lone “blue” state; the other 14 are “red” states that sweep from the Caroli­nas through the South, and into the West, with Ari­zona and Utah. The most vig­or­ous ERA­cam­paign­sareinFlorida,Mis­souri and Illi­nois.

“It’s a myth” that Repub­li­cans don’t sup­port the ERA, said Idella Moore,who­found­ed­www.4ERA.org in At­lanta in early 2003.

Repub­li­cans have a long his­tory of “do­ing the right thing” — they’re the party of the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tio­nan­daRepub­li­can­cast the de­cid­ing vote for women’s right to vote, said Lynn Foun­tain, a Ge­or­gia re­search sci­en­tist, Repub­li­can voter and board mem­ber www.4ERA.org.

The Nov. 7 midterm elec­tions showed that Repub­li­cans “don’t have a very good im­age” with wom­en­right­now,sh­e­said.“Wouldn’t you like to fix that?”

Ms. Macleod of the 6-year-old ERA Cam­paign Net­work in New Jer­sey said her group is strongly bi­par­ti­san, but she agreed that a new Congress led by Cal­i­for­nia Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the first fe­male speaker of the House, of­fered fresh op­por­tu­ni­ties. Un­der Repub­li­can­led com­mit­tees, pro-ERA bills were “locked up for years,” she said. New lead­er­ship “will surely make it more likely, more pos­si­ble to move it ahead.”

of

Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat, is a lead­ing ERA pro­po­nent, as are both Mr. An­drews and Mrs. Maloney, who also sup­port a sec­ond strat­egy that calls for restart­ing the process com­pletely.

Many Amer­i­cans will be puz­zled to hear about a new ERA bat­tle, partly be­cause they think the is­sue is over and partly be­cause many of them think the ERA is al­ready part of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

For ex­am­ple, at least 22 states have ei­ther adopted ERAs or con­sti­tu­tional pro­hi­bi­tions against sex dis­crim­i­na­tion, ac­cord­ing to a 2005 a Rut­gers Law Jour­nal ar­ti­cle.

The death of the ERA was cel­e­brated in June 1982 — it’s “dead for now and for­ever in this cen­tury,” Mrs. Sch­lafly told sup­port­ers, ac­cord­ing­toa1982Timemagazin­earti­cle — and im­plied by the U.S. Supreme Court in Oc­to­ber 1982, when­it­de­clined­to­take­u­panERAre­lated law­suit be­cause the is­sue was “moot.”

How­ever, Ms. Moore and Ms. Ma­cleod­sayifthree­morestates­rat­i­fied the ERA, Congress could cer­tify it by a sim­ple ma­jor­ity vote.

Mr. An­drews’ bill ad­dresses this point: “If three states rat­i­fied [the ERA], the courts would sooner or later get the ques­tion of whether the prior rat­i­fi­ca­tions were valid. And I want the House to go on record and say, ‘Yes, they are,’ ” Mr. An­drews said two weeks ago.

AP

FOR ERA IN ‘78: From left, Glo­ria Steinem, Dick Gre­gory, Betty Friedan, and Reps. El­iz­a­beth Holtz­man, Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski and Mar­garen Heck­ler marched in Wash­ing­ton.

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