Equality in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness constitutionally is guaranteed to all American citizens. That very notion is so etched in our nation’s history and seared in our hearts and minds that its absence defies logic. Nonetheless, more than half of U.S. citizens lack equal application and protection of law under the Constitution.
Left out are the grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, wives, daughters, and the families and communities they transform. Why would any man, woman or child oppose equal treatment under the law for themselves or anyone else?
The “what if” of human potential sparks the most compelling argument for equal rights. If the intellectual capital of all workers were to be fully explored, fostered, and acknowledged, we might nail the cure for cancer or stop heart disease. How many scientific breakthroughs are sacrificed because society fails to equalize education and employment?
Seventy percent of Americans trust that equal rights under the law exist today, despite blatant contradictions. In every facet of gender oppression, abuses of power degrade standards of living, block lifetime potential, and curtail economic stability for millions of individuals and families.
Sham excuses, falsehoods, myths, and scare tactics have been employed by political antagonists to drive a wedge between men and women, lobbyists and citizens, and proponents and opponents of objective and equitable treatment under the law.
Without equal constitutional protections, U.S. court cases will continue to be decided in favor of employers, while maintaining the status quo of belittling women and minorities. Despite comprising 50.8 percent of the population, earning 60 percent of both undergraduate and master’s degrees, and encompassing 47 percent of the labor force, American women remain vastly undervalued.
Arizona’s gender-based wage discrepancies total nearly $6 billion a year, causing an average $7,000 a year loss for each working woman. Female employees earn 81.8 cents for every dollar paid to men, and Arizona women are not expected to achieve wage parity for another 29 years.
Equal rights in its current format originated in 1923, when 19th Amendment strategist and advocate Alice Paul proclaimed that: “Equal rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.” Nearly a century later that inequity still has not been righted.
It was not until 1972 that Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and presented it to the 50 states for ratification. Subsequently stalled for decades three states shy of the 38 ratifications required to become law, the amendment now is undergoing another pivotal resurgence. Two states — Illinois in 2018 and Nevada in 2017 — became the latest to ratify. Only one more state is needed.
Arizona’s ratification is the nationwide conduit to guaranteed equality under the law in careers, compensation, judicial decisions, health care, education, and economic security. When passed, the ERA will assure legal recourse when any person faces discrimination. The judicial rules applied will be the same for all.
Arizona’s women earned the right to vote at statehood in 1912, long before the 19th Amendment. ERA legislation, however, remains blackballed.
The ERA regrettably can’t even get a hearing, despite Arizona’s historic record of women elected to the state House and Senate; multiple female governors; five top state offices simultaneously held by women; the recent swearing in of Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally as the first two women from Arizona in the U.S. Senate; and the Prescott area’s Karen Fann becoming the second woman in history named Arizona Senate president. It’s time for the state to reclaim its leadership by ratifying the ERA now.
Every year since 1982, a ratification resolution has been introduced in the Arizona House or Senate or both. Each time, the measure has been obstructed through political maneuvering and grandstanding. The ERA has been blocked by opposing legislators who refuse to advance it to the House and Senate floors.
Democracy fails when one person or group uses their position of authority to block meaningful discussion and vote on constituent-supported legislation. Yet it happens again and again at the Arizona state capitol. Voters across Arizona, regardless of political or party affiliation, should urge their legislators to push the ERA forward to ratification in the House and Senate.
The 2019 versions of the bills have now been dropped in their respective houses and supporting lawmakers are working to get them moved through committees where they will have the best chance of ratification. Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale; Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson; Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, and their circles are the movers and shakers to follow and support.
Go to www.azleg.gov for updates and write, call, and/or email your legislators. Remind lawmakers that the ERA guarantees equal protection for everyone under the law and will ensure that all citizens are afforded the wealth of opportunities pledged by the American dream. Rise to ratify!
Sue Marceau is a public policy advocate at AAUW-Prescott.