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    100 Years and Counting: Time to Ratify an Equal Rights Amendment?

    By Andrea Shorter–

    Women’s History Month is a time to highlight and celebrate the achievements of women who have, or are making, significant contributions to move our local, national and global communities forward. Each year, there are fewer domains in which women have not had or are making strides, breaking ground and leading the way. Whether in politics, the sciences, the arts, media, business, economic development or other areas where women have been categorically underrepresented and underappreciated for centuries, there are numerous stories to be told of the robust half of the human population making their marks to reshape history—or her-story, as is more appropriate for this annual occasion.

    Certainly, the 2018 midterm elections elevating a record-breaking number of women into the House of Representatives, the return of the first woman Speaker of the House, the record-breaking numbers of women crowding the field in the race for president (seven so far, including iconic spiritual guru Marianne Williamson), and the groundswell of women who bid for offices high and low across the nation in 2018—13 women ran in Gubernatorial races, over 470 women registered for primary runs for Congress—are already registered achievements to salute and build upon in the here and now.

    A woman’s place is in the House: women now make up a quarter of the 116th Congress. With a fifth of the Democratic women in the Senate running for president, and Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House 2.0, it begs the question: is this a good time to revisit the Equal Rights Amendment? Any takers for seriously re-taking up this nearly 100-year proposed amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex? Anyone?

    There is a glimmer—and, I do mean glimmer—of hope for at least reconsidering the importance of an ERA. The last major legislative attempt to keep the ERA on the docket was by Senator Tammy Baldwin. In 2011, along with co-sponsors, Baldwin proposed to lift the perennial decade-after-decade, deadline-after-deadline loop to ratify for Constitutional amendment. Eight years later, aside from a recent utter of the term “ERA” on the primary campaign trail by one presidential hopeful, Senator Kamala Harris, perhaps indicating a cursory testing of the waters for an ERA revival, we haven’t heard a peep from other candidates or anyone else for that matter.

    The path towards ratification of an Equal Rights Amendment is a long, storied and bumpy one for sure. Since its conception in the 1920s by feminist foremothers Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, the push for an Equal Rights Amendment has gone through more twists and turns than a long stretch of coastal California Highway 1. It unfolds an epic drama with casts of characters both for and bitterly against its ratification.

    In the 1970s, just as the gay liberation movement had its conservative hetero-maniacal foe in Anita Bryant, Phyllis Schlafly (also no friend to “the gays”) served as staunch anti-feminist, anti-equality anti-thesis to the women’s movement. Mobilizing conservative women and more than a few not so good men, she and others succeeded to derail the bipartisan support for ratification of an ERA in the House and Senate during the eras of Nixon, Ford and Carter. Coming upon the election of Ronald Reagan as president, the last of Republican support for an amendment was receded from its platform as the party sought to absorb and promote anti-ERA pro-life factions to accelerate reproductive rights as a campaign wedge issue.

    Today, there are 25 states’ adoptions of some form of equal rights protections and non-discriminatory laws concerning 50% of the population identified as female. What remains is a checkerboard scenario similar to the pre-SCOTUS ruling on same sex marriage equality—here a state, there a state for or against constitutional provision and protection of a civil right. As LGBT people still remain without federally protected equal rights under the law (we need the Equality Act), the cause for a similar constitutional amendment for LGBT individuals and women are not so far apart.

    In 2019, have the social, cultural and political winds over the past four decades shifted enough to reignite majority support for ratification of an ERA? If the elections of a historic diversity of women into the 116th Congress, and the numbers of women running for president—all much inspired to counter and oust the most anti-woman president ever—are any indications, one would think so. What do you say then? Can we at least talk about it? I’ll start: #ERA2020.

    Andrea Shorter is a Commissioner and the former President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights and marriage equality. A Co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.