In 1923, Alice Paul first introduced the Equal Rights Amendment to members of Congress. After a flurry of national attention in the 1970s and an all-out war over the would-be Amendment in the early 1980s, full ratification of the ERA – and with it, the first Constitutional acknowledgement of gender inequality – continues to elude us.
After nine decades, here are nine reasons we still need the Equal Rights Amendment.
9. A sitting Supreme Court Justice believes the Constitution does not prohibit sex discrimination.
In a 2011 interview with the California Lawyer, the Supreme Court Justice so articulately affirmed the Constitution’s lack of protection against sex-based discrimination: “You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. 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’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that.”
8. Female earning power is still stuck at 77 cents to a man’s dollar, even though there are more female-led households than ever before.
According to the Pew Research Center, the number of female-led households and female-as-breadwinner households, has quadrupled since 1960. In more than 40 percent of all US households, women are the primary breadwinners or heads of households.
7. Having a child means wage bonuses for men, but wage penalties for women.
Third Way found that fatherhood actually increases men’s earnings by over 6 percent. But married mothers with minor children experience the biggest wage gaps.
6. The burden of proof for sex discrimination cases still rests with victims instead of offenders.
Under existing laws, victims must prove that an offender has discriminated against them on the basis of sex. If the ERA were ratified, the burden of proof would shift to offenders, requiring them to prove they did not violate the Constitution.
5. Congress actually considered not reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act last year.
For the first time in the law’s 20-year history, the 112th Congress allowed VAWA to expire because of opposition to expanded protections for Native American women, LGBT survivors, and immigrant women fearing deportation. Worse, in 2012 the House voted along party lines to roll back protections granted by the Violence Against Women Act.
4. The Constitution does not protect women survivors of violence who take legal action, and apparently, in some cases it’s illegal for Congress to do so.
In 1994, Christy Brzonkala, a student at Virginia Tech, attempted to sue her alleged rapists and the University using the newly-minted civil rights remedy under VAWA. Then-Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote that there was nothing the federal court could do. She’d have to try again at the state level. Read Christy’s story.
3. Pregnancy discrimination leaves women vulnerable to loss of employment if they decide to have children.
Peggy Young worked for UPS for 7 years before she became pregnant. Despite a policy permitting light-duty assignments, Young was denied accommodations during her pregnancy and lost a suit against UPS under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. Heather Wiseman, a sales floor associate at Wal-Mart, began carrying water at work due to health issues resulting from her pregnancy. When she was denied this accommodation and subsequently fired for insubordination, she sued Wal-Mart in federal court for retaliation. She also lost.
Despite gains for women like the Equal Pay Act of 1963, pregnant workers continue to face an onslaught of discrimination from their employers – and fail to receive justice when they take legal recourse.
2. We’re in the midst of a clinics crisis and an all-out war on reproductive rights.
In their 2014 report addressing the rise of abortion restrictions, the Guttmacher Institute called attention to the “unprecedented wave” of state-based abortion restrictions. In 2013, nearly half of all states in the US passed some kind of anti-abortion measure, effectively restricting individuals’ access to comprehensive, Constitutionally-defended reproductive healthcare. With the Supreme Court’s ruling in “Hobby Lobby”, the highest court in the land further affirmed the pattern of trampling women’s reproductive healthcare options, complicating the process of obtaining truly affordable, responsible, reproductive care.
1. It’s been 91 years. Enough already!
Really, unratified states? Really? The Equal Rights Amendment simply makes sense. Passing laws that elevate the status of women where they belong shouldn’t take 91 years. Really. Give the ghost of Alice Paul a break.
Come out this Saturday, September 13th for the #Rally4Equality2014 on the Capitol lawn!