Renewed Fascination with ERA

by Natalie WymanFamily Foundation Intern/Lobbyist

We recently saw the close of a relatively drama-free General Assembly session. While there were, as usual, many controversial bills, nearly everyone voted as was expected and we missed the incredible drama of last session (with its extended session).

However, something unusual did stand out to me: the increased attention given to the Equal Rights Amendment. There was heated debate on it in the Senate, and there have been numerous newspaper articles written about Delegate Cole’s controversial refusal to hear the bill in the House committee.

The Equal Rights Amendment, or the ERA, is the constitutional amendment that was proposed by Congress in the early 1970s and was sent to the states for ratification in 1972 as an effort to give equal rights to women. The amendment 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.” It then gives Congress the power to enforce the amendment through “appropriate legislation.”

Why, after forty years, are we still debating the ERA? Its supporters would argue that it is because men and women still aren’t equal and that the amendment is necessary for women to finally be on equal footing with men.

But ask yourself this question: do you really believe that women are not any better off than they were in the 1960s and 1970s when the ERA was originally introduced?

As a woman, I find that statement personally offensive.

Our culture today is incredibly different from that of the 1972 era in which the ERA was originally introduced. Today, so-called traditional gender roles are less ingrained in our heads as more and more women are choosing work over staying at home with their children, women are getting married and having children later so as to focus on their careers first, and more women than men are enrolled in higher education. (But wait; maybe we need the ERA so that we fix that unfair discrepancy in higher education!) Nationwide efforts to reduce sexual violence and to encourage women to have more confidence and better self-esteems have empowered women to embrace their femininity without feeling inferior to their male counterparts.

Furthermore, many supporters also cite the wage disparity between men and women in the workplace as an example of the need for the ERA. Actually, there are many laws in place that are working on this problem. Enforcement is the issue there, not a need for further and more expansive regulation.

At this point, I think the ERA would be serving as an ideological statute because it doesn’t actually seem necessary to me. So if that’s the case, then why not pass it? If I believe that equal rights is no longer an issue then its consequences would be minimal, right? Wrong. Such a broad amendment could have many substantial consequences beyond the usual conservative arguments involving military conscription and unisex bathrooms. There are churches and religions that don’t allow women to serve in certain positions of leadership. Under the ERA, religious liberty could be attacked, and this is why the Family Foundation opposes it.

But back to the original point of my curiosity in the increased interest in the ERA. I think that the ERA has received more attention this session as Hillary Clinton gets ready for a bid for President in 2016. Whether particularly intentional or not, the more press that gender inequality and the ERA get, the more press and popularity for a female president.

Now granted, I would never vote for Hillary Clinton - but that has nothing to do with her gender and all to do with her liberal policy beliefs. I have no problem with a female president because I believe women are just as capable as men in that capacity. However, I don’t think the ERA is the correct response to her candidacy or to more specific gender equality issues like wage equality.

Look at the last half-century: somehow women have been able to move up in the world over the past forty years without the help of the ERA. This is because women have been empowered and encouraged to push themselves to their ultimate potential, working hard to prove that we are just as smart and just as capable as the men around us. That is inspiring to me: women didn’t need a law to tell us that we are equal. We’ve been proving ourselves equal all on our own.