Equal rights belong in the Constitution

Wed, Jul 11, 2018 (2 a.m.)

Are we one state away from full constitutional equality for women?

Ninety-five years after the Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in Congress, women are still not granted equal rights in the U.S. Constitution.

President Donald Trump and his enablers feed on the resentment they can incite toward anyone who can be looked down on as “other.” The administration’s most recent actions to separate refugee children from their parents and use them as hostages to advance Trump’s political agenda undermine not only the rule of law but also our most basic humanitarian principles and common decency. Differences are scorned, diversity is rejected, beliefs are disrespected. History is rewritten and facts are denied. Acts of violence are condoned in the name of perpetuating an exclusionary, discriminatory white patriarchy.

At the heart of all this hatred is opposition to one of the most fundamental tenets of our democracy — equality. Either you are for equality or you are against it. And if you believe in equality, you must commit to its defense, no matter what.

That’s why I am rededicating myself to a cause that’s more vital, and more urgent, than ever: the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Women are still not guaranteed equal rights under the U.S. Constitution. The National Organization for Women has made ratifying the ERA a top priority because equality in pay, job opportunities, political structure, health care (including reproductive health care), and education — in particular for women of color, women with disabilities and the LGBT community — will remain an elusive dream without a guarantee in the U.S. Constitution.

The ERA would codify reproductive rights in the Constitution and greatly support low-income women who are the first to lose access to affordable birth control when family planning services are reduced.

As we push for gender equity, the gender/race pay gap remains one of the most glaring and measurable examples of inequality. Not only do women make less than men overall, but when disaggregated by race, the gap grows even further.

The ERA would create a precedent for enduring and enforceable legislation that addresses the intersections of pay discrimination. Without constitutional protections, women will continue to face lifelong consequences of gender discrimination in the workplace.

It’s unconscionable that the U.S. Constitution fails to guarantee equal rights for all citizens regardless of gender. Fixing these flaws is not only proper, it is essential to the continuation of our democracy. Our Constitution is not set in stone. It’s a living document that must reflect our core values and principles.

The failure of the framers to include women in our nation’s founding documents is a constitutional mistake that has long demanded correction. Now, with actions taken by state legislatures in Nevada and Illinois to ratify the ERA, the amendment is one state short of the 38 needed to make the ERA part of the Constitution. NOW supports an intersectional interpretation of the ERA that uplifts the needs of all women.

The progress we have made — and must continue to make — toward women’s equality can be lost at any time because those advances depend on legislation that can be (and has been) weakened or repealed by Congress. Given the current political climate, this is more of a concern than ever.

In an interview with Vox, Carol Robles-Roman, co-president of the ERA Coalition, reminds us, “The ERA has had momentum, and the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up, the messaging of both, really showed that we need an ERA. People are realizing that women don’t have constitutional equality.”

Beyond the overwhelming need for the ERA from a legal and constitutional point of view, the campaign to achieve full ratification is a vital organizing and social justice movement as well. The next election will be a referendum on our most basic principles and values.

The suffragette leader Alice Paul, who drafted the original ERA in 1923, once said, “We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government.”

I agree — and that’s why I’m working to make the ERA a part of the Constitution. As long as there are men in positions of power who keep women down, we need an explicit guarantee of equality in the Constitution. Nothing else will do.

Toni Van Pelt is the president of the National Organization for Women. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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