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Stop the Con and Take ERA All the Way

by Cindy Cooper

The biggest feminist con ever might be the failure to inscribe equal rights into the United States Constitution. Now, the effort to revive the ERA is on the boards again.

On December 10, 2010 -- to not a droplet of media coverage -- U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a new Equal Rights Amendment in the Senate. SJ-41. A companion bill in the house is sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).

The original drive for an Equal Rights Amendment succeeded in getting Congressional passage in 1970. The ERA needed state ratification to enter the constitution, and it looked promising. Then came a full-out attack by "Stop ERA" and the professional anti-feminist, Phyllis Schafly, a conservative Republican who launched a scare campaign to hurt the effort. The result left the amendment dangling, three states short of ratification.

Schafly is still at it. Last April, she described feminism as "sour-grape ideology." In February 2008 when the Illinois state legislature considered passing a state version of the ERA, Schafly sent out an alert. "ERA is a fraud," she wrote, citing four reasons why "urgent help" was needed to defeat it. Number one on the list abortion. "ERA would require taxpayer funding of abortions. She cites a New Mexico case from 1998. "We must NOT give courts this power!" Schafly wrote.

Her second reason recycles an old homophobic refrain for Schafly. "ERA would allow the courts to legalize same-sex marriages. Courts in four states have ruled that ERA's ban on 'sex' discrimination requires marriage licenses to be given to same-sex couples. In Maryland and Washington, those decisions were overturned by a one-vote margin in higher courts, but ERA gives the power to the judges to rule either way. We must NOT give supremacist judges this power!" wrote Schafly.

Reasons three and four were that, according to her view, the ERA would deprive wives of the "dependent wife" benefits in Social Security ("Beware!" she wrote), and that the ERA would require young women to register for military service (even though there is no draft) or be ineligible for college aid.

Senator Menendez had a different view. "Most people are surprised when they find out that, in the 21st Century, American women still are not constitutionally guaranteed equal rights under the law," he said in introducing it to the Senate.

In a press release, Menendez describes "a few ways" that the ERA will benefit women: "Clarifying the legal status of sex discrimination for the courts by making sex a suspect category subject to strict judicial scrutiny, similar to race, religion, and national origin; Guaranteeing equal footing for women in the legal systems of all 50 states; Ensuring that government programs and federal resources benefit men and women equally."

House Sponsor Rep. Maloney said, "Though women have a significant patchwork of legal protections today, nothing compares to protection under the U.S. Constitution."

The Senate bill was sent to the Judiciary Committee. Adoption of the amendment requires passage by the House and the Senate, and then independent ratification by the legislatures of 38 states.

The Equal Rights Amendment was drawn up 87 years ago by Alice Paul, a leading suffragist, three years after women won the right to vote. An unusual time limit on ratification left it unpassed in 1982. The Menendez-Maloney joint resolution starts the process over, although others have called for a "three-state strategy" or similar proposals to get ratifications from the final states that were needed on the previous round.

The ERA is short and simple. It states: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

No one seems to know where potential candidate Sarah Palin, who has called herself a feminist, stands on the ERA, but an ideological colleague, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has not signed on to Maloney's proposal.

With the media shoving it aside, the bill seems doomed to languish. So, Lady Gaga, now that you are a declared feminist, ... can you make another trip to the Capitol this year?

December 14, 2010

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Cindy Cooper is an independent journalist in New York.

Also see Not-so-New Right Wing Women By Abby Scher in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

Also see 'Abortion' as Right's Multipurpose Scare Word by Amanda Marcotte in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

Also see "Equal Rights Amendment Brings Out the Ranters" by Jennifer MacLeod in the Spring 2009 edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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