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Bill Straub: Good ideas come and go — but for the Equal Rights Amendment, it’s an idea long past due

It was Victor Hugo who claimed “nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,’’ yet here we are, in the year of our lord 2020 (complying with a directive from the nitwits in the Kentucky General Assembly) and the Equal Rights Amendment, initially offered to the 50 states for their consideration in 1972, remains in the dumpster, with the possibility of resurrection sketchy at best.

That can mean only one thing: Women, in many facets, still are not guaranteed equal legal rights as men under the Constitution, a deplorable and hurtful situation that nonetheless is peachy-keen with those who maintain the authority to actually do something about it. In fact, Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville, just recently backed the status quo, smirking that he is “personally not a supporter’’ of the proposal aimed at placing the genders on the same footing.

In this case, obviously, a powerful idea whose time should have come 48 years ago, give or take, remains unfulfilled, and opponents of the measure will certainly perform all sorts of jiu-jitsu to rationalize the inexplicable while simultaneously attempting to convince the public they’re not really misogynists.

Good luck with that.

The amendment, popularly referred to as the ERA, has been floating around for so long that a majority of the general public probably wasn’t around when it was initially broached. It is very simple. The entire amendment comes in three short sections, to wit:

Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

No fuss no muss and it carries substantial public support – an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released in February found that 73 percent of those surveyed support the ERA. Yet the proposal has existed in a sort of purgatory for decades. Interest has been revived in recent months thanks to a couple of developments.

The Virginia General Assembly, after having snubbed the proposal for years, finally got around to ratifying the amendment in January, bringing the total to 38 states, the minimum needed to make it the newest addition to the Constitution.

Unfortunately, the congressional resolution sending the question to the states included a ratification deadline of March 22, 1979, subsequently extended to June 30, 1982, raising questions about the legality of the Old Dominion’s actions. The U.S. House of Representatives stepped in last month and adopted a resolution erasing the deadline and dropping the issue in the lap of the Senate, where Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, have introduced a similar measure.

ERA foes insist Congress doesn’t possess the authority to alter the deadline – an argument embraced by the Department of Justice, no surprise since the president of these United States, one Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, has made it clear his view of women’s equality extends only as far as permitting him to grab them by their private parts. Supporters counter Congress doesn’t maintain the authority to place a deadline on a proposed constitutional amendment.

There’s another bump in the road, which is where Kentucky enters the fray. While 38 states have ratified the amendment, five states – Nebraska, Tennessee, Idaho, South Dakota and, you guessed it, the old Bluegrass – subsequently voted to rescind their approval after having earlier endorsed ratification.

Kentucky is a particularly interesting case. The legislature ratified the amendment during a special session in 1972 under Gov. Wendell Ford, It switched horses six years later under Gov. Julian Carroll. But in March 1978 Carroll left the state for a vacation in South Carolina, leaving Lt. Gov. Thelma Stovall in charge.

Stovall, a true pioneer who was a champion for organized labor and women’s rights, vetoed the measure, explaining in a subsequent interview, “It’s ridiculous after 200 years that women are still second-class citizens.’’ Whether Stovall actually had the authority to act as she did has never been resolved. Nor has the issue of whether a legislature can retract its ratification.

So there are several moving parts that need to be addressed. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is on record saying the entire process should get a new start. It’s naïve to think that will lead to a positive result in the current political environment.

It should be noted that some of the issues the ERA intended to address in 1972 have been resolved. Same-sex marriage is not an issue, having been addressed by the Supreme Court.

Divorce laws, property rights and even issues dealing with military service have been tackled, some more successfully than others.

But there are giant gaps. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, noted for “women still face inequality under the law from the wage gap to pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment and, again, resulting in women being underrepresented at the table.”

All of which raises the inevitable question – for what possible reason could anyone oppose a constitutional amendment assuring equality for all?

The answer, of course, is abortion.

Abortion foes, as is their wont, raise the specter of increased instances should women be declared equal, that somehow clinics will pop up on every corner to serve newly empowered females.

“This is an open door to abortion on demand with no restrictions, no government interference,’’ said Rep. Doug Collins, R-GA. “In fact, government would pay for it.”

That claim fails to account for the fact that abortion already has been found to be a constitutional right and has been so since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973 – the year after the ERA was dispatched for consideration by the states. That hasn’t changed – yet.

And there is no reason to believe the federal government is going to foot the bill, particularly since the U.S. is behind the rest of the developed world in the area of universal health care. There are plenty of items that are medically-related the feds don’t pick up the tab for — old men who take advantage of Viagra don’t receive a government check.

This is a powerful idea whose time should have come long ago.

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One Comment

  1. ruth bamberger says:

    Thanks, Bill, for that complete update of the ERA. Shortly after women’s right to vote was ratified (which took 75 years!), Alice Paul, founder of the League of Women Voters, called for a constitutional amendment to give women full equality under the law, i.e., an Equal Right Amendment. It almost became a reality in the early ’70s, but a massive disinformation campaign led by Phyllis Schlafly, based on fear, killed it for good.
    While women are better off in many ways today due to federal and state legislation, they still do not have the protections against discrimination guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. That is shameful in the 21st century!

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