Sheryl Allen: Time for Utah to get the Equal Rights Amendment right

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kelly Jones, Charlotte Maloney and Jody England Hansen, from left, wave back to young student women visiting the Capitol as they dress up as Silent Sentinels (women who protested outside the White House a century ago for suffrage), as they attend the legislative session on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, to encourage Utah legislators to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. At right is conservative political activist Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, an opponent to ratifying the ERA.

I found it in a long-neglected drawer. “The Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment, A Moral Issue,” was published in 1980 by the Ensign Magazine, a magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Rep. Karen Kwan has reintroduced a resolution for Utah to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in HJR 7. A similar resolution was introduced in Utah in the 1970s. The LDS Church was vociferous in its opposition. Today, the LDS Church still opposes the Equal Rights Amendment, but public disapproval is almost muted. That’s why a careful analysis of this 40-year old booklet is fascinating.

The booklet asks 20 questions about the ERA and provides the reader with answers, obviously approved by Church leadership.

“Is sex discrimination already constitutionally prohibited?”

The booklet answers that, based on the 14th Amendment, sex discrimination is already prohibited. That answer was given prior to Ledbetter vs Goodyear Tire, the 2006 landmark equal pay case. That case is one of many cases and laws that have since been implemented to thwart the fight against sex discrimination. Countless women will validate that sex discrimination, while improving, has definitely not been eliminated.

“What would be the impact of the ERA on homosexual marriage?”

The 1980 answer was that, “The passage of the ERA would carry with it the risk of extending constitutional protection to immoral same-sex – lesbian and homosexual – marriages.”

Mercifully, the courts have already required equal treatment of same sex marriages. Many of us are grateful that homosexuals and lesbians can now enjoy the legal and emotional advantages of marriage.

“How would the ERA affect the family?”

“The ERA would ban a state from imposing greater liability for support on a husband than on a wife merely because of his sex.” Divorce laws and consideration of alimony and child support since 1980 have become more equitable, and that seems to be working rather well. However, the wage gap in Utah between men and women remains a travesty.

In answer to this question, it also stated, “Many women, wives and mothers included, must of necessity work outside the home. [Note: it states that many, “must of necessity work,” no mention of choosing to work]. The inequalities they encounter can be dealt with under existing [1980] laws.”

Definitely wrong! There have been many improvements in our laws since 1980, but still more needs to be done. Adequate child care, primarily a woman’s challenge, remains a glaring problem for working families that Utah has not adequately addressed. Government leaders express support for families, but the shortage of qualified child care is acute.

“What would be the ERA’s impact on military service for women?”

“… its passage would impose upon women the same draft requirements as men and the further probability of comparable combat duty, with the particular hazards that poses for women.”

With 40-year hindsight, it appears that women are definitely succeeding in the military. If they qualify intellectually, physically and mentally, their military opportunities are extensive. The military strength of America remains a reality.

What that booklet doesn’t acknowledge is that Utah has had an equality clause in the Utah Constitution since statehood in 1896. Article IV, Section 1 states, “Both male and female citizens of this State shall enjoy equally all civil, political and religious rights and privileges.”

For decades, opponents of the ERA have predicted dreadful consequences if the proposed equal rights amendment is passed. While many unmet challenges remain, the equality clause in the Utah Constitution has worked rather well.

My church has a history of getting too many things wrong about the ERA and equal rights. The booklet reminds me of that. Forty years from now, I hope we can all say that we finally got it right, or at least, we’re close to equivalence. All men and women are created equal and should be afforded equal rights under the Constitution. Let’s ratify the ERA.

Sheryl Allen

Sheryl Allen, North Salt Lake, is a former Utah legislator who, regretfully, never had an opportunity to vote for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.