The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is on the march and coming to a constitution near you.
After decades of dormancy, the ERA soon is being considered in the Minnesota House with a majority of members in support. Senate companion bills will feature DFL and GOP co-authors, signaling a majority of the votes.
The first-ever women’s rights convention was held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Out of it came the Declaration of Sentiments, a document that declared equality with men under the law, saying: “Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation, in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.”
Two bills are before the state House: the Minnesota State ERA Bill, a constitutional amendment bill to embed an ERA into our state Constitution (HF13), and the Federal ERA Resolution to Congress to remove the deadline on the federal ERA (HF71).
The Minnesota State ERA Bill (HF13), authored by Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton (with a companion bill authored by Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul), will add a section providing for gender equality in our state Constitution.
The impact would be to provide a constitutional basis for claims of gender-based violence, help create more realistic legal standards for sex discrimination in the workplace, ensure that women can work safely, have reasonable accommodation and earn much-needed income for themselves and their families during pregnancy, and address unjust laws that impact men. If passed, a question would be added to the general election ballot in 2020, the 100th anniversary of women’s gaining the right to vote.
Currently, 24 states have some kind of equal rights amendment language in their state constitutions. ERAs have existed in state constitutions for over 140 years and no federal law has been overturned because of them. Other states are poised to add an ERA. In Delaware, a state ERA may finally pass this month, and, in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made an equal rights amendment a priority in his first 100 days.
The Federal ERA Resolution to Congress (HF71), authored by Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul (with a companion bill authored by Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul), memorializes Congress to remove the arbitrary deadline of “June 30, 1982,” from the ERA. For a federal constitutional amendment to be made part of the U.S. Constitution, three quarters (or 38) of the states must ratify it. This country is now sitting at 37 states ratified. With the tremendous success ratifying the ERA in Nevada in 2017 and Illinois in 2018, huge strides have brought the ERA to a tipping point.
Virginia is on the verge of a herstoric move to become the 38th state to ratify the ERA, allowing the Constitution to catch up with our society. The majority of Americans believe women should have equal rights. The impact nationally will include all of the benefits mentioned for the state ERA above, with the addition that the federal ERA would require the Supreme Court, which is governed by the Constitution and in turn governs all our state courts, to use the higher standard of “strict scrutiny” rather than “intermediate scrutiny” in sex discrimination cases. This level of scrutiny is the standard used in cases of race and religious discrimination.
At the federal level, although five states rescinded their ratification after the fact, there is precedent at the Supreme Court for not allowing states to rescind: In 1868 when the 14th Amendment was ratified, two states tried to rescind but the Supreme Court overruled them, saying that states may not rescind after the fact.
Scare tactics abound. Lately, the ERA has been called a “rotting corpse” and “anti-woman.” But the ERA takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.
On Saturday, ERA activists proudly join Women’s March Minnesota. One of the Women’s March Guiding Principles states: “We believe it is time for an all-inclusive Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
The ERA is alive, unstoppable and marching. See you there.
Betty Folliard, of St. Paul, is a former state DFL representative and founder of ERA Minnesota.