Organizers of Wednesday’s lobbying blitz for the Equal Rights Amendment — yes, that old thing! — reserved a room at the State Capitol large enough to assemble and brief the 100 volunteers they expected. The room filled, then refilled, to overflowing three times before those organizers were compelled to break away for a scheduled media briefing, while participants — many dressed in red, the color signifying International Women’s Day — continued to arrive.
That turnout is in keeping with the renewed energy among women’s rights advocates that’s been in evidence all year at the Legislature and elsewhere in Minnesota. It was most visible when upwards of 100,000 people produced what is believed to have been the largest march on the Capitol in state history on Jan. 21. The Women’s March that day swelled into a more generalized protest against newly inaugurated President Trump, but it had at its core a sense that women’s rights are not secure in the United States.
That sense springs from something fundamental: A constitutional guarantee of equal rights under the law has never been granted to women. The Equal Rights Amendment fell three states short of the number needed for its ratification in the 10-year window Congress allotted it, 1972-1982.
That window was arbitrary. It can and should be removed so that three more willing states can be found, ERA advocates explained to legislators this week. Appeals from state legislatures to Congress can help make that happen. Meanwhile, the state Constitution ought to afford Minnesota women and men equal standing under state law, the advocates say. An amendment on the 2018 ballot could make it so.
Those ought not be controversial pleas. The Minnesota Legislature ratified the federal ERA at its earliest opportunity in 1973 with a solid bipartisan vote. In the intervening 44 years, the objections critics lobbed at the ERA have been revealed as red herrings. Gender integration came to the military and unisex public bathrooms appeared without the amendment.
The ERA is still needed. It would make the law a stronger shield against domestic and sexual violence and a more forceful ally as women press for equal opportunity in the workplace and other facets of society. It would also be a potent affirmation of America’s values at a time when those values are being called into question around the world. Legislators should not hesitate to do their part to finish the long quest to make gender equity under the law a constitutional right.