By: Alyson Peabody, Editor-in-Chief
Of the many notable things from President Trump’s State of the Union address, one thing stood out to me the most: green buttons. Pinned on the white lapels of some Democratic women in the audience were green buttons that read, “ERA yes.”
For anyone who doesn’t know, ERA stands for Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA was passed in 1972 by joint resolution of Congress. A joint resolution is a legislative measure that requires passage by the Senate and the House of Representatives and is presented to the President for an executive vote. It needs to be ratified by 38 states to become law.
Thirty-five states ratified it almost immediately after it was passed, but the movement stalled.
Two years ago, the ball started rolling again. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) wrote a 2019 op-ed in the Washington Post about the renewed effort to ratify the amendment at the state level and how it was partly due to the Me Too movement. Virginia became the 38th state in 2020.
Why is the ERA important?
I first learned about the ERA in highschool. I had a classmate approach me because my t-shirt read, “Girls just want to have fundamental human rights.” He laughed and asked, “What rights don’t women have?”
This question surprised me. It was presented as if all women of every creed, economic background, race and orientation were already equal to not just men but to each other. Women of color, sex workers and transgender women (to name a few) would beg to differ.
I went home and read up on gender discrimination. I discovered the US Constitution does not explicitly prohibit gender discrimination. How can this be? Every USM syllabus outlines how the university doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender, but our country doesn’t have that written in? Not even tacked on as a sticky note or written in the margins?
The ERA would change that by adding the following line: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Banning discrimination on the basis of sex by adding the ERA to the Constitution will prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It offers protections to gay and trans people regardless of gender.
“Democrats all across the country are fighting for women as we are here in the Capitol – for equal pay for equal work, against sexual harassment and assault, and for our equality to finally be enshrined in the Constitution,” Carolyn Maloney (D – NY) said in a statement to the media last Tuesday.
The ERA would give people more tools to challenge discriminatory laws or practices in court. Currently, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment has been interpreted by federal courts as offering some protection against sex discrimination.
Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, said: “It would, at the most fundamental level, recognize that gender equality is a foundational principle for the United States.”
It has been 48 years since the ERA was passed. I hope to see it added to our Constitution in our lifetime.