The Equal Rights Amendment just moved closer to final passage after the Illinois Legislature ratified the measure Wednesday, becoming the 37th state in the nation to do so.
Now only one final state is needed to reach the three-fourths threshold for ratification into the U.S. Constitution. Most likely to succeed may be North Carolina, whose legislative session ends in June.
The ERA has been a 100-year battle similar to the struggle for the right of women to vote. It’s an issue of power and power doesn’t give itself up. But the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements underscored how patriarchy is affirmative action for men and that discrimination on the basis of sex will no longer be tolerated.
A major paradigm has shifted. Now it’s time for Minnesota to join with 24 other states in passing a state ERA into our Minnesota Constitution.
The ERA guarantees equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It would provide a legal remedy against sex discrimination for women and men and send a strong pre-emptive message that the Constitution has zero tolerance for sex discrimination.
The ERA is intersectional, providing legal safeguards for all regardless of race, sexual orientation or creed.
And the ERA is bipartisan, as evidenced over the last three weeks in Illinois.
Far-right hate groups continue to invent scare tactics to thwart progress toward equality, yet 24 states have already passed ERAs into their state constitutions. Most state ERAs have been around for 40 years. The oldest, in California, has been around for 139 years. Illinois has had a state ERA for 50 years and nothing apocalyptic has happened.
For those who would argue that there are already laws for this sort of thing, take note: A law is not a constitutional guarantee. It can be changed or overturned.
Stereotypes about women formed the basis for limiting our role in society. A look to our court system finds examples of these stereotypes. In New Mexico in 1914, a court noted that in the old common law, “women were incapable mentally of exercising judgment and discretion and were classed with children, lunatics, idiots, and aliens.”
Similar stereotypes had to be overcome to win a woman’s right to vote, to serve as jurors, to own property, to inherit equally, to serve in public office and to own our own credit cards. An ERA added to the Constitution would prohibit laws and policies based on historical stereotypes.
The ERA neither denies — nor purports to ignore — that there are physical differences between men and women. And there is no funding requirement. It simply prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. We’re equal, not the same.
Unfortunately, we still have to contend with “originalist” interpretations in our court system. Originalists on the bench interpret the Constitution as it was understood at the time it was written. Some examples of originalists are Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and the late Justice Antonin Scalia. In 2011, Justice Scalia commented: “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”
When the ERA is in the U.S. Constitution, we will not have to rely on the 14th Amendment or interpretations of its original intent from the year 1868.
As the abolitionist and early member of the suffrage movement Sarah Grimke famously said, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
Thank you, Illinois. You just moved the dial a whole lot closer toward legal equality.
Betty Folliard is a former DFL member of the Minnesota House and founder of ERA Minnesota.