Equal Rights Amendment Deserves Hearing In Arizona Legislature

Sandra Day O’Connor was the first person in the Arizona Legislature to propose the ERA in 1972. It passed in the Senate but the House refused to hear it.

In March, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Women across the country watched last week, as a committee in the Illinois Legislature discussed the bill there.

In Arizona, women and men, who support the Amendment, have been denied even a hearing.

Rep. Pam Powers Hannley’s bill, HCR2012, was doomed from the start when Speaker of the House JD Mesnard assigned it to Rep. Eddie Farnsworth’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. Despite paying lip service to working across party lines, through the assignment of bills, Mesnard has killed many good pieces of legislation this year that might have earned bipartisan support.

It is hard to imagine that in this day and age, the Equal Rights Amendment would not receive bipartisan support; unimaginable really.

Given the Republican Party’s role in advancing civil rights; specifically the right of women to vote, opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment today would be in conflict with the Party’s history. Yet, the powers-that-be ignored that proud past and missed an opportunity to show that they are not committed to a war on women.

The ERA is not dead yet

Some of the opponents to the Equal Rights Amendment claim that Nevada’s passage was simply symbolic. They argue that the ERA is a dead issue and reintroduction of it in state legislatures is a futile effort.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In the article, The Equal Rights Amendment: Why the Era Remains Legally Viable and Properly Before the States, the authors note:

The ERA was first introduced nearly seventy-five years ago.

Although some supporters have abandoned hope during the long struggle for ratification, many supporters have continued the fight for equality. The recent ratification of the 203-year-old Madison Amendment gives these supporters new reason to believe that the ERA is still alive. Originally proposed without a time limit in 1789, the requisite thirty-eight states did not ratify the Madison Amendment until 1992. This ratification suggests that amendments, such as the ERA, which do not contain a textual time limit, remain valid for state ratification indefinitely.

When that argument doesn’t work

Opponents claim that there is no longer a need for the Equal Rights Amendment. Granted, since the time the Amendment passed by the required two-thirds vote of both the U.S. House and Senate in 1972, we have come a long way. Just not all the way.

It was Justice Scalia, who pointed out that our “Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex,” but it doesn’t prohibit it either.” In other words, the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” does not prevent discrimination based on gender.

Actually Justice Scalia’s entire statement reads:

“Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws.”

Yes! Legislatures do enact things called laws – unless of course – they are prevented from even hearing them as is the case in Arizona today.

Can women and men of goodwill come together?

Although republicans had a history of advancing civil rights, it was Phyllis Schlafly and others who turned the Party around and drove policies that “protected” women – mostly from their own judgment – instead of empowering them. Schlafly rose to prominence in part due to her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.
One could rightly argue that her opposition was well-motivated; she thought the Amendment would weaken protections for women, but she was wrong.

In Feminism Past and Present: Ideology, Action, and Reform, Camille Paglia best describes Schafly, feminists and the near end of the Equal Rights Amendment movement:

“…. two major events marked 1970s feminism. First was the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, which legalized abortion in all fifty states.”

“This was an epochal expansion of women’s reproductive rights, which I support without qualification. Unfortunately, abortion would come to dominate American feminism and eventually, I submit, would distort and weaken it. The second event was the creation by Phyllis Schlafly, a lawyer, Republican activist, and mother of six, of STOP ERA, a group devoted to defeating the Equal Rights Amendment, which was slowly wending its way through state legislatures. This was a watershed moment in American politics, because Schlafly’s grassroots organizing would lay the foundation for the future revival of conservatism. Feminist leaders, trapped by their own ideology, which was becoming increasingly dogmatic, demonized Schlafly without adequately responding to the concerns that she had raised—which included basic questions about whether women would be drafted or whether unisex toilets would be mandated. After a ten-year struggle, the Equal Rights Amendment failed in 1982 to pass the requisite number of states, and it died. But this defeat did not stimulate self-analysis among feminist leaders; on the contrary, it hardened their oppositional attitudes. They now saw the world simplistically divided between feminist and anti-feminist.”

And it is that divide, more than anything Mesnard could do, that stands in the way of passing the Equal Rights Amendment in Arizona.

Unfortunately, since the Arizona Legislature is made up of mostly men more interested in the contents of a woman’s womb rather than the content of her character or her status as a person, the chances of the Legislature working to empower women is unlikely.

It is those of us, on both sides of the political aisle and in between, who must stop seeing the world as simplistically divided and work to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in Arizona, if not this year, then next.