Standing before a crowd on the steps of the Utah Capitol Thursday evening, Sen. Kathleen Riebe made an announcement.
”Yesterday, I opened an ERA bill again,” Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, said to cheers.
Riebe joined the crowd of about 200 people on Thursday, national Women’s Equality Day, in Salt Lake City for a rally hosted by the Utah ERA Coalition and other organizations to encourage state lawmakers to ratify the ERA. Women’s Equality Day commemorates when the 19th Amendment became law, giving women the right to vote.
The event kicked off with a series of speeches talking about ways to improve the lives of women in Utah.
”This week, Utah was again designated the worst state for women’s equality,” said Kelly Whited Jones, president of the Utah ERA Coalition.
“Boo!” the crowd responded.
The ERA is not just for women, but for everyone, no matter their gender, race or identity, Whited Jones said, adding that she and others will continue to work for “fundamental equality under the law for all, until we get it.”
Just like in previous years, a resolution for Utah to ratify the ERA never made it out of committee during the 2021 general session.
First proposed in the 1920s, the amendment 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.”
Last year, Virginia became the 38th and final state needed to add it to the U.S. Constitution, decades after it passed the U.S. Senate and House in 1972. But advocates expect legal challenges ahead, including over the fact that five states have voted to rescind their ratification and the efforts to remove a deadline for the amendment.
According to Whited Jones, there were other rallies held across the country on Thursday calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to revoke a 2020 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel preventing Congress from moving the Equal Rights Amendment forward due to the expired deadline.
Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, asked the crowd to do three things to help the fight for equality. First, she encouraged Utahns to connect with their state senators and representatives to explain why they should support the ERA.
Second, Kwan told attendees to find out if their city or town is among those that have passed a resolution in support of the ERA. If not, Kwan urged attendees to ask their council members to do so in order to show state lawmakers how many Utahns support the amendment.
Lastly, Kwan told people “to keep your passion going.”
Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake City branch of the NAACP, encouraged people to reach out to Utah senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney and tell them to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which passed the U.S. House earlier this week.
“Not a single Utah representative voted for this bill, and we need to remember that,” Williams said.
Former Utah congresswoman Karen Shepherd and Latter-day Saint poet and author Carol Lynn Pearson reflected on the struggles and backlash that supporters faced when trying to ratify the ERA in the 1970s.
“Do not give up,” Shepherd said.
Most of the crowd who gathered for the rally in Salt Lake City wore face masks. Hand sanitizer was available, and organizers encouraged people to socially distance.
The speeches were followed by a candlelight vigil in Memory Grove to honor Utahns from the past and present who have worked toward gender equality, including Reva Beck Bosone, Utah’s first female judge and first woman elected to represent the Beehive State in Congress; Amy Brown Lyman, former general Relief Society president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and suffragist Minnie Quay, among others.
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.