“Equality of rights shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”
- Equal Rights Amendment
Did you know that women in the U.S. still don’t have equal rights? You may be one of many who thought this issue was resolved back in the 1970’s & ‘80s when the national Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) made it out of the U.S. House and Senate and sent to the states for ratification. Or perhaps you assume that equality has been achieved and the ERA is no longer needed.
The fact is that there is no constitutional guarantee of equal rights based on gender in either our national or state constitutions.
Thirty-five of the necessary 38 states ratified the ERA by 1982. Despite many precedents to the contrary, the legislation passing the ERA out of Congress included an artificial deadline on the time allowed for ratification. That deadline was extended but the effort fell short by 3 states leaving protections against gender discrimination out of the constitution.
Twenty-four states have put equal rights amendments into their state constitutions over the years. Even though Minnesota was one of the first states to ratify the ERA — voting in 1973 to add the Equal Rights Amendment into the federal constitution — we have never adopted an Equal Rights Amendment into our own state constitution.
We have seen firsthand that without equal rights as a foundation within the constitution, laws can be overturned, ignored and repealed. Without constitutional backing, there can be no strict scrutiny under the law based on gender. Case after case of discrimination against women has risen through the judicial system only to fail when reaching the Supreme Court since the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender.
Enter the #MeToo Movement — the rise of awareness and a speaking-out on sexual harassment. While this pervasive cultural behavior is nothing new to women, survivors of sexual harassment are only now being given the space and air to breathe, breaking through the surface of socially observed — but ignored — “norms” and finally being heard. Sexual harassment stems from the abuse of power and inequality based on gender bias and discrimination. Treating the behavior alone is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging wound and does not address a cure.
Gender discrimination wears many faces, sexual harassment is just one of the manifestations; gender imbalance in elected bodies, pregnancy discrimination, homelessness, domestic violence, and the fact that women of all colors and ages are the single largest demographic living in poverty, all trace directly back to laws and social constructs that support, encourage, and accept inequality based on gender. Pay inequity begets poverty and poverty begets educational deficits and stokes the dysfunction out of which domestic abuse, violence and addiction rise. Culturally supported gender roles and socially accepted stereotypes only perpetuate this destructive cycle, feeding the imbalance of power that impacts everyone in our society.
We will only see real change in economic parity, equality in employment, job promotion and societal behavior when the U.S. and our Minnesota constitutions explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender. It is only by establishing the constitutional prohibition against discrimination on the basis of gender that we will cure gender-based power imbalances. Without strict scrutiny under the law which constitutional protection guarantees, women and men seeking legal remedy of gender-based discrimination will endure more discrimination rather than gaining redress.
We at ERA Minnesota (ERAMN) are working hard to build the coalition to demand that our legislators recognize 2018 is the time for equal rights in Minnesota and across the United States! ERAMN is non-partisan and is fighting for basic human and civil rights. Taking up this cause is the “middle-ground” where we can meet and act together to finally make good on the promise of “liberty and justice for all”.
Please join us in our fight for gender equality — we can’t wait another 200 years!!
Visit www.eramn.org for information on the bills, upcoming events, actions and more!
Join us Saturday, Jan. 20 to Kickoff The Year of the Woman! Also, mark your calendars for Thursday, March 8, 2018 for ERA Day at the Capitol and International Women's Day.
Heather M. Allison