John Curtis votes to remove deadline to ratify Equal Rights Amendment

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah.

In a bid to revive the Equal Rights Amendment, the House on Thursday approved a measure removing a 1982 deadline for state ratification and reopening the process to amend the Constitution to prohibit discrimination based on sex.

"There is no expiration date on equality,'' said Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California, the resolution's sponsor.

The House approved the resolution, 232-183, sending it to the Senate. Five Republicans — including Utah’s Rep. John Curtis — joined 227 Democrats to support the measure. No Democrat opposed it.

“It is past time that women are guaranteed equal opportunities under the Constitution and I believe it is imperative that Congress work to fix existing gaps in the law putting women at a disadvantage," Curtis said in a statement Thursday.

Curtis said he made his vote “knowing full well there are still difficult questions as we strive for equality. However, I refuse to believe that treating women as our equals comes as a tradeoff for traditional Utah values. In fact, I believe it’s actually a deep part of who we are in Utah."

Utah Rep. Ben McAdams, a Democrat, also supported removing the deadline, while Utah Republican Reps. Chris Stewart and Rob Bishop voted against it.

"I will always stand for equal rights for all Americans. But, I have some concerns with the Equal Rights Amendment, as it would undermine pro-life laws and force taxpayer funding for abortions,” Stewart wrote on Facebook, identifying similar objections mentioned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Congress sent the amendment, which guarantees men and women equal rights under the law, to the states in 1972. It gave states seven years to ratify it, later extending the deadline to 1982. But the amendment wasn’t ratified by the required three-quarters of states before the deadline.

Last month, however, Virginia lawmakers voted to ratify the amendment, becoming the 38th and final state needed. The Justice Department has said it's too late, and a lawsuit is now ongoing.

Advocates in Utah said they are hopeful that the Beehive State could still ratify the ERA through a joint resolution introduced by Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray. Nearly 70% of Utahns support ratifying the ERA, according to a January poll from The Salt Lake Tribune and Suffolk University.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called passage of the resolution long overdue, noting that Congress will soon observe the 100th anniversary of women having the right to vote.

And yet “the ERA is still not enshrined in the Constitution,'' the California Democrat said. ”As a result, women still face inequality under the law from the wage gap to pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment and, again, resulting in women being underrepresented at the table.''

The House measure helps the country "take a giant step toward equality for women, progress for families and a stronger America, because we know when women succeed, America succeeds,'' Pelosi said.

The House vote ran into political headwinds this week as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — a feminist icon — said that fellow ERA supporters should start over in trying to get it passed, rather than counting on breathing life into the failed attempt from the 1970s.

“I would like to see a new beginning," Ginsburg said Monday night at Georgetown University law school in Washington. “I'd like it to start over.”

In addition to Virginia, Nevada and Illinois also voted to ratify the amendment in the past three years. Five states have moved to rescind earlier approvals.

“There's too much controversy about latecomers,” Ginsburg said. "Plus, a number of states have withdrawn their ratification. So if you count a latecomer on the plus side, how can you disregard states that said we've changed our minds?”

Ginsburg has been a champion of the Equal Rights Amendment for decades. And her standard response to the question of how she would improve the Constitution is to point to the ERA.

Democrats did not address Ginsburg's argument directly, but said at a Capitol event Wednesday and during floor debate Thursday that it's absurd to suggest women are too late to win equality.

"There should not be a deadline on equality,'' said Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., a former state lawmaker who hailed Virginia's adoption of the amendment last month.

"Thanks to the tireless work of so many trailblazers and activists over the years, women — finally — are one step closer to being included in our nation’s founding document,” she said.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said Democrats were trying to “rewrite history” by reviving the ERA after three-quarters of the states failed to ratify it by the 1982 deadline.

"Congress does not have constitutional authority to retroactively revive a failed constitutional amendment,'' he said.

“If you support the language of the 1972 ERA,'' he added, "you only have one constitutional option, and that’s to start the whole process over again and make your case to current voters nationwide.''