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Charlotte Maloney: Utah Legislature continues to deny women equal rights

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Kelly Jones, left, and Jody England Hansen 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.

Women, please pay attention. The Republican-led Utah Legislature continues to deny us the equal treatment under the law that we deserve.

As of the time of this writing, Rep. Karen Kwan’s resolution for Utah to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, HJR007, is being held in the Rules Committee, unassigned, where it has been since day one of this session.

In the face of overwhelming constituent support across Utah, many Republican legislators continue using their playbook of ignoring the will of the people and, in this case, it is harming women.

All legislation in the House goes through the Rules Committee. This is where it is reviewed and assigned to the next committee, the typical next step. House leadership has the power to decide if it is even considered by the Rules Committee, and every single lawmaker has the ability to apply pressure and encourage them to move the resolution forward.

To date, it continues to be withheld — preventing any conversation from even happening. It is unfathomable as to why this has not been considered and moved forward.

There seems to be a disconnect here. How can lawmakers say they care for women including their own mothers, sisters, wives and daughters when they avoid protecting them under the law. In their failure to act, it is clear that the Republican leadership opposes equality for all and is working to keep women oppressed.

This includes all women — women who have the rewarding, yet never-ending and undervalued job of working in the home, raising their children and caring for their family; women who find satisfaction and fulfillment in their choice of working outside of the home; and women, who out of necessity or choice, do both.

There has been great fanfare and celebration at the Capitol this session as we mark anniversaries of women’s suffrage. Yet, 150 years after Seraph Young cast her ballot here in Utah, 100 years after women won the right to vote across the country, and 97 years after the ERA was first introduced in Congress, women remain unprotected in the United States Constitution.

Clearly, the majority of Republican legislators prefer it this way. Why are they not concerned that their daughters receive equal pay for equal work, are treated fairly in the courts, or receive adequate support if they become victims of domestic violence? Why do they find it acceptable that there continues to be the possibility of rolling back current laws that protect women?

There are brave heroes. Some Republicans have voiced support for women and the resolution. And, all members of the Democratic Caucus have been and continue to be strong allies.

Where do your representatives stand? Lawmakers backing the legislation should be lauded and thanked. Any legislator who is not a vocal supporter might as well be stating their opposition. Silence equals complicity. Those who remain silent or oppose should be held accountable.

Often lawmakers say that the amendment is too vague and question the meaning of “sex.” I’m continually shocked when I hear lawmakers expressly state that they are in favor of legal discrimination against our LGBTQ friends and family.

The nature of the ERA and the natural progression of society demonstrates inclusivity and expanding rights to everyone, rather than limiting them. We have been at this same crossroads for more than 150 years. The rights of every single American must be protected and codified in the Constitution.

The fight for the right to vote was a long and difficult one, and tragically, even longer and harder for our sisters of color. It is time to answer First Lady Jeanette Herbert’s recent call for women to use their voices and be “audacious” in working for greater equality.

We need to ask our representatives where they stand on HJR007 and what they are doing to encourage leadership to move it forward. We must take note and, in November, use the power of our voice and our vote to support candidates who support us.

Charlotte Maloney

Charlotte Maloney writes social and political commentary and serves on the Utah ERA Coalition Executive Committee.

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