Time for the ERA?

One of the ways that the Obama administration has tried to engage the public is the “We the People” online petition tool.  On January 10th a petition was launched asking the White House to “fully engage in efforts to ratify the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).”  The petition needed to get 25,000 signatures in a month in order to get an official response—this one got 27,691.

What struck me is that in that same month period, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced he would lift the ban on women in military combat—removing an argument that was once used by opponents of the ERA — that women can’t serve in combat.

The ERA simply 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.  The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Authored by women’s suffrage leader Alice Paul in 1923, it took until 1972 for the amendment to make its way through Congress.  After 38 states failed to ratify the amendment by 1979, the deadline was extended by Congress until 1982.  At that point, only 35 of the needed 38 states ratified the amendment.

As many advocates continue to pursue a dual strategy of re-ratification by Congress and ratification by 3 additional states, the Secretary of Defense’s recent action brings up the question of “do we still need the ERA?”

Many might argue no – that women’s continuing legal, economic, political and social progress makes the ERA irrelevant.  The army is letting women serve on the frontlines—what part of American life is now not fully open to women?

I would argue that no part of American life is fully open to women, and we need the ERA now more than ever.  Women are only 19% of Congress and only 4.2% of Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 CEO’s.  Women earned $0.77 for every $1 a man earns.  It is estimated that 1 out of every 4 to 6 women are victims of sexual assault or rape in their lifetime.  There are so many – too many – statistics that could be cited that show the continued inequality of American women.

So whether we need Congress and 38 states to ratify the ERA, or just need 3 more of the 15 hold out states (AL, AR, AZ, GA, FL, IL, LA, MO, MS, NC, NV, OK, SC, UT, VA), it’s way past time for the U.S. to guarantee equality for women in the Constitution.  Here’s hoping the Obama administration will see that petition and take action.


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