Before You Forget, Women Are Not Granted Equal Rights under the Constitution
By AnnaMarie Houlis
2017 was quite a year, especially for women around the world (and universe). In retrospect, Peggy Whitson — the first woman to command the International Space Station — broke the U.S. record for the most cumulative days spent in orbit. A royal decree lifted the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. The voices of workplace sexual harassment victims across the U.S. were finally heard via campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp. And studies show that women have moved into more leadership roles across all industries, including the male-dominated Silicon Valley with companies as big as PayPal.
But there is so much more to be done. In particular: Women still need to be granted equality under the law within the U.S. Constitution. Because, yup, an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is still a thing.
Initially the ERA was supported by republicans very strongly and was even in the republican party platform. It was overwhelmingly passed in 1971 in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. The proposed ban on discrimination based on sex read, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
It had a deadline by which 38 states needed to ratify it. It was ratified in only 35 states by the deadline. And, thus, designated equality for women failed to become a Constitutional protection.
"Many people who followed the struggle over the ERA believed — rightly in my view — that the Amendment would have been ratified by 1975 or 1976 had it not been for Phyllis Schlafly's early and effective effort to organize potential opponents," political scientist, Jane J. Mansbridge wrote in her book Why We Lost the ERA.
In 1980, support for the ERA was removed from the republican party platform. Flash forward to 2018, and we still don't have equal rights for women spelled out in the Constitution.
Enter: The Human Campaign, "an effort to get the ERA passed and ratified by 2020 — the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote." The campaign believes that, 100 years after women got the right to vote, it's about time that every protection that men enjoy in the Constitution be applied to women, as well.
"There are strong indications that those charged with interpreting the Constitution as it is written don't believe that women are protected," writes Katie Packer Beeson, who is behind the campaign. "Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg recently indicated that 'We the People' meant something very different during our country's formative years than we expect it to mean today. She said, 'If there is one amendment to add to the Constitution, it would be the ERA. I'd like to tell my granddaughters that they live in a country where men and women are actually of equal stature.'"
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had also said in September 2010: "Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't."
While Ginsberg and Scalia didn't agree on much during their years on the Supreme Court, they'd always agreed that protection for women in the Constitution is not expressly provided. Today, activist and Actress Lina Esco, democratic operative Johanna Maska (President Obama's campaigns and White House), and republican operative Katie Packer Beeson (Mitt Romney's Deputy Campaign Manager) are behind the new campaign.
Their goals are simple: "Passing a Constitutional Amendment is designed to be difficult. It must have broad bipartisan support. The campaign won’t start in Hollywood or Washington. Instead it will start with uniting people across the U.S.," the campaign reads.
They will build a grassroots campaign employing the best of research, polling, infrastructure, and engagement, and unite unlikely parties engaging them in a discussion of equality. They'll use oxygen and momentum of #MeToo and Time Is Now, but collaborate with republicans and men to shift from the individual conversation to the institutional conversation — how we really bring about change for women. And they'll ratify the ERA by 2020, the 100 year anniversary of women’s right to vote. A new coalition, new tactics and a new outcome. The fiscal sponsor is Hopewell Fund, a 501c3, and all donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.
By 2020, the ERA should grant women equal rights in the Constitution because it's long overdue.
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