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After nearly a century, why are we still fighting for the ERA?

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As Arizona moves closer to ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, those against women’s equality are trotting out those old desperate Phyllis Schlafly myths so I’d like to set the record straight with a few facts.

The language of the ERA is simple and direct – the same 24 words Alice Paul introduced to Congress in 1923. “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”  Who, can argue with that?

Victoria Steele

Victoria Steele

The Equal Rights Amendment is a Constitutional Amendment. The fact that we have various statutes prohibiting sex discrimination is not the same as a Constitutional right. The Constitution focuses on fundamental values like ending slavery and with the ERA, granting women legal equality.

Some opponents erroneously claim the 14th Amendment gives women all the protection they need but Republican Supreme Court Justice Scalia rebutted that when he said, “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”  Besides, if women had all Constitutional protections under the 14th amendment, why did we need the 19th Amendment to vote?

Yes, women have more rights today but those rights are based on laws that can and do change with each political election.  And, if laws were working why is there still a gender pay gap? On average, Arizona women make 83 cents of what a man makes, but African American women make 68 cents, Latinos make 55 cents and Native Americans make 46 cents. The wage gap cannot be explained away by choices.  Women are paid less than men across all industries.

The gender pay gap exists regardless of education level. Women with master’s degrees working full time, year-round are paid just 72 cents for every dollar paid to men with master’s degrees. Further, women with doctoral degrees are paid less than men with master’s degrees, and women with master’s degrees are paid less than men with bachelor’s degrees.

A recent court case, National Coalition for Men versus the Selective Service System found that, “If there ever was a time to discuss the “place of women in the Armed Services” that time has passed.” Women have all the duties of citizens – we pay taxes, we serve on juries, and we serve in the military – but we do not have all the rights.

To be clear; The ERA is not about abortion, which is already a Constitutional right. The fight over reproductive rights will continue long after the ERA is enshrined in the Constitution.  If it was about abortion, Justice Sandra Day (O’Connor) a Republican and Sister Clare Dunn would never have introduced the ERA legislation in Arizona as they did in the mid-70s.

ERA foes are also wrong on the Supreme Court precedent on the “deadline” issue. What the Court really said was that whether there is a deadline is entirely up to Congress, not the Court. Congress can make a deadline, change it or take it away, which bi-partisan bills now in Congress are seeking to do.

In 1776 Abigail Adams wrote a letter to her husband John Adams urging him to please “remember the ladies” in the “new code of laws.”  She wrote, “I desire you would Remember, the Ladies and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.  Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.”

John Adams did forget “the ladies” but women have never forgotten our thirst for equality and never will.

Victoria Steele represents Tucson in the Arizona Senate.

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