Vickie Samuelson: The fight for the ERA is not over

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Christian Nunes, vice president of the National Organization for Women, center top, joins the Utah ERA Coalition on the steps of the State Capitol building to urge legislators to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and prove their commitment to elevating the women on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, during the first day of the 2020 legislative session.

Did you know that our U.S. Constitution has no prohibition for discrimination on the basis of sex? That’s not for lack of trying.

When Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA this past January, we came tantalizingly close to finishing this fight.

For the past 100 years, our citizens have been trying to pass an Equal Rights Amendment that would do just that. While steps have been taken to forbid discrimination at federal and state levels, the ERA has been stopped for reasons that are unclear or unfounded.

Sen. Mike Lee, in a town hall meeting, was asked if he would support the ERA. He emphatically said no. His reason was that it would make all abortions legal and undo all the laws that have been passed against Roe v Wade. The League of Women Voters disagrees and believes Roe vs. Wade stands on its own and the ERA would have no impact.

In 1982, Congress set an arbitrary deadline for ratification which was not met. On Feb. 13 this year, the House of Representatives passed H.J.Res. 76 to remove that deadline. We urge the Senate to join the House in supporting this legislation. Equality has no time limit.

Ninety-four percent of the American public supports the ERA. In conservative Utah, the figure is 70 percent. This is not a partisan issue.

While women have made significant progress toward equality over the years, they continue to battle systematic discrimination in the form of unequal pay, workplace harassment and domestic violence, to name a few.

Unequal pay is just one example that shows that equality isn’t working in Utah. Utah continues to have one of the largest gender pay gaps in the country, according to an analysis by the National Partnership for Women and Families. That hasn’t stopped discrimination based on sex.

Indeed, Utah has its own Equal Rights Amendment. “The rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of this State shall enjoy equally all civil, political and religious rights and privileges." — Article IV Section 1 of the Utah Constitution.

That hasn’t stopped discrimination based on sex.

Tackling these issues will take more than reactionary solutions. We must address the root cause of inequality by amending the U.S. Constitution. The ERA will pave the way for further legislative progress toward gender equality and will allow the courts to closely scrutinize sex-based discrimination.

The League of Women Voters calls upon Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney to vote Yes on S.J.Res. 6 to ensure the final ratification of the ERA. We are closer now that we have ever been to seeing this amendment become a part of our Constitution, affirming our values as a nation.

The League of Women Voters has always fought for equality in our citizen-led democracy, and we believe that ensuring equal rights under the law for all sexes is an important step to make our democracy stronger and more inclusive.

Vickie Samuelson

Vickie Samuelson is co-president of the League of Women Voters Utah.