As of now, only one state is needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Hopes were high this month and last that Arizona would be the one, and then optimism was shifted at Virginia. But alas, their Republican-controlled state legislatures balked once again and refused to do the right thing. Conservative states are not wild about any kind of equality, it seems. Do they actually think women are inferior to men? Deep down they must. Not only do they lean toward white supremacy but in opposing the ERA they must also be sympathetic to the idea of male supremacy.
But now, surely, is the perfect time for the ERA to become part of the supreme law of the land. As Gayle Tzemach Lemmon of CNN opined in November of last year, “Buoyed by the #MeToo movement (and the #TimesUp movement) and a body politic filled with women energized about making their constitutional equality a reality, support for the ERA has seen a revival in the past two years.” And I would think that with the magic number of new Democratic women members of Congress at 38, the ERA’s frustrating bad luck could be on the verge of lifting.
Thirty eight states are needed to ratify an Amendment to the Constitution. The states can do that in two ways — by calling a state convention to ratify, or by a positive vote in both houses of the state legislature. The last state to ratify the ERA was Illinois in May of 2018. It’s also possible, however, for a state to rescind its ratification of an amendment. But once the 38th state has ratified an amendment, Article Five of the Constitution makes it clear the amendment cannot be repealed without going through another entire amendment process. The 18th Amendment, for instance, that prohibited the manufacturing, transporting and selling of “intoxicating liquors,” was ratified by Congress and the states in 1919 and took effect in 1920. Because of its widespread unpopularity, the 18th was repealed by Congress and the states through the 21st Amendment in 1933.
The ERA went to the states for ratification in 1972. By 1977 it had garnered the approval of 35 states. Congress had set the 1979 deadline for ratification and extended it to 1982. But the ERA was still stymied. Champions of the ERA argued successfully that Article V had no provision for setting a ratification deadline. The argument was bolstered by the glaring reality of the ratification of the 27th Amendment, forbidding Congress to give itself a raise while in session. The 27th was first proposed as an Amendment of the Bill of Rights in 1789. It was ratified when Michigan voted to do so in 1992, 203 years later. Imposed deadlines are expressions of political bias not a matter of constitutional law.
The ERA is so close now to ratification, I am positive it will happen if not this year then before the 2020 elections. If the GOP has its way, of course, it could become an election issue. But an amendment to the Constitution cannot be repealed by an executive order of the president. And it would be impossible to get 38 states to repeal it, even with Trump/Pence in office for another 4 years.
The ERA would become the 28th Amendment. All the ERA says is that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” So far Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia, all generally red states, have NOT ratified the ERA.
But why would you oppose it? It must be that conservatism in America has been morally flawed at its foundation by misogyny — a hatred and fear of women, the primal form of bigotry and prejudice. What to do they fear? As male supremacists, they must fear competition in the marketplace of jobs, innovation, culture, and credibility. With an ERA there would be no legal distinctions between men and women when it came to employment, property ownership, wages, employee benefits, divorce, or any other social or economic sphere subject to law. It would, once and for all, level the playing field. The invisible hand of sexism could no longer grab women by the collar and the pocketbook and keep them from getting ahead.
We all heard from the opponents of the ERA in the 1980s about the dreaded horrors of unisex bathrooms in public places and that basically women would lose their privileges based on the daintiness and moral superiority of their sex. That was one of those double whammy symbolic arguments that was itself based on a kind of misandry, a hatred of men. Misandry goes from the extreme of gendercide to the passive abrasive conservative lobbying against the ERA based on the reasoning that being “equal” to men in the eyes of the law would see women taken down to the moral depths of men. In the eyes of ERA opponents who see American culture as tilted in favor of women, protecting them, presumably, by keeping them down and out of the economic arena blood stained by the boorish savageries of men, the ERA was not an equalizer, but a step into the abyss.
Opposing the ERA, from my perspective, is based on hatred all around, hatred of women who are defined as inferior to men, and hatred of men who are defined as morally inferior to women.
But when it comes to social equality, the law of the land, expressed in a motto carved in stone on the U.S. Supreme Court building, is unequivocal. It says simply and majestically “Equal justice under law.”
That’s what the ERA is all about — equal justice for women, “equal rights under law” in every realm and strata of society and its economy, protected by the supreme law of the land and answerable to it.
It’s not about hatred, or fear, or supremacy. It’s about equal justice in the eyes of the law, period. And who could oppose that, other than people who place a positive value in being unjust?
*Nullius in verba: take nobody’s word for it
(Image by John Brighenti)