Yesterday morning, I had the great pleasure of speaking to Roberta Francis, Co-Chair of the ERA Task Force of the National Council of Women’s Organizations. And we had the most marvelous conversation about WHY the Equal Rights Amendment is important, and what folks can DO to FINALLY get it passed!
There are probably very few people in this country who know more about the ERA than Roberta Francis. She’s devoted herself to this issue since the early 70s–working to ensure that the amendment is reintroduced to Congress every year, giving speeches on the benefits it would provide to everyone in this country, and reminding folks of the fundamental justice of the thing.
Just as a reminder, here’s what all the hubbub is about:
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Pretty simple, isn’t it? It’s difficult to believe that those twenty-four words could prompt much debate. In fact, I think the ERA now sounds so fundamentally democratic and fair, so basic to what America is all about, that it can be a strain to remember that the principle for which it stands–sexual equality–isn’t already guaranteed by the Constitution.
But folks, it’s not. I think that the most common misapprehension about the ERA is that it’s now irrelevant. That we’ve progressed so far on the issue of sexual equality that the ERA is now, happily, obsolete.
Well, we have progressed very far, but not far enough, folks: The ERA is as vital as ever.
Now, there are a million reasons why having the ERA would make this a more just nation. For instance, it would guarantee equal pay for equal work (as it stands, many women earn 58 cents for every dollar earned by a white man). And it would also prevent health insurance companies from charging women vastly more for their premiums.
But, as Ms. Francis explained to me, there’s a much more fundamental reason for passing the ERA. And that is: Until we pass the ERA, every person in America who has been discriminated against on the basis of their sex will face a higher burden of legal proof than someone who has, for instance, been discriminated against because of their race.
That’s because the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991 were all created with the express purpose of protecting Americans from race-based discrimination.
And while each of these excellent measures has been used to protect Americans from sex discrimination, that’s only because various courts have, at various times, interpreted their general purpose to include protection from sex discrimination.
In other words, though the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Acts have been used to redress sex discrimination, that’s not really what they’re for. Which means that anybody using them for that purpose is really making do with the wrong tool. Kind of like trying to use a knife when what you really need is a screw-driver. It might work, but it’ll sure cost you a lot more effort and aggravation.
And guess what, friends. Often the folks who need the kind of protections that the ERA could provide are the folks least able to afford lengthy, elaborate court battles to prove that their Constitution protects them, too. Isn’t that a lousy deal?
Another thing that Ms. Francis told me is that hope is NOT lost on the “Three State Strategy.” Which means that we probably WON’T have to start all over again on the ERA. In the past, many folks thought we would have to start the state-by-state ratification process over again, because while the ERA was passed by both houses of Congress and ratified by 35 states, it needed 38 states to pass! So, in 1982, the
ERA deadline expired while it was still three states shy.
But apparently, some worthy scholars have done tons of research that suggests there’s established legal precedence for allowing the ERA to pick up where it left off–just three little states shy of being the law of the land! Although it would have to pass both houses of Congress again.
Now, Texas has ratified the ERA, but Louisiana and Oklahoma haven’t. So if you have any sympathetic friends in good ole LA or OK, call them!
And here’s what Texans can do on the home front. Call or write your Congressperson!
Here are the names and phone numbers of the four US Congresspeople from Texas who have signed on as co-sponsors of the ERA this year:
Rep. Henry Cuellar / 1-877-780-0028
Rep. Chet Edwards / 1-254-752-9600
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee / 1-713-655-0050
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson / 1-214-922-8885
If one of these fine people represents you, call them and say “Thanks!”
But if you don’t see your Congressperson on this list, then call them, and kindly suggest they sign on for liberty and justice. Ask them to co-sponsor the ERA!
AND organize, organize, organize! Make a splash! Let’s get creative, like Gloria Allred, the famed feminist lawyer, who plans to go on a fast for the ERA.
Here’s a link to that story!
AND please visit Roberta Francis’ excellent, comprehensive website about the ERA:
I’m sure I’ve left you with a thousand unanswered questions, and more likely than not, she’s already answered them far better than I could hope to do.
Oh, and here are some great Youtube clips of Ms. Francis talking about the ERA!