Equal rights amendment overdue

Until we unite as a nation, the rest of the world has every right to view us in the light of hypocrisy.

Abby Bar-Lev

Eighty-five years ago feminists around the country fought for the right to vote. They fought long and hard for what today seems like a commonsense liberty: women’s suffrage. Eighty-two years ago feminists pushed for adding an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that officially barred discrimination based on sex. Apparently, that was asking too much. Hope is not lost and the strive for equality is not over. Only three states are needed to ratify the amendment. Its addition to the United States Constitution is absolutely necessary to finally and officially include the equality of the sexes into our country’s most sacred document.

Thirty-five of the necessary 38 states have already ratified it, including Minnesota. Why is it taking so long for this country to approve such an imperative and simple amendment to the Constitution? The text of the Equal Rights Amendment is as follows: “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.” What is so threatening in that?

The amendment remains alive thanks to the precedent known as the Madison Amendment. The Madison Amendment is the 27th amendment to the Constitution and deals with Congressional pay raises. It was ratified in 1992, but was first proposed in 1789 ” 203 years prior to its ratification. The Supreme Court found this passage of time to be acceptable. Eighty-two years has certainly not expired the possibility of the amendment’s ratification into the Constitution. Relatively speaking, it may yet be in its infancy.

We must not allow it to gray before we accept it into our Constitution. The amendment remains as necessary today as it was in 1923. Beyond the symbolism of officially declaring men and women equal, it would have some very important constitutional effects on our country. Federal courts often still struggle with sex discrimination cases, unsure as to how to approach the issue. Supporters of the amendment argue that sex, like race, should be considered a “suspect class,” and thus held to “strict scrutiny.” Strict scrutiny is the highest level of judicial scrutiny. If the amendment is passed by the full 38 states, sex discrimination cases would be held to the same standards as race discrimination cases. In other words, states would bear a very heavy burden ” the strongest judicial burden ” to prove that it absolutely needs the law in question. As the Alice Paul Institute and National Council of Women’s Organizations said, “We need the ERA to clarify the law for the lower courts, whose decisions still reflect confusion and inconsistency about how to deal with sex discrimination claims.” So, although the Equal Rights Amendment holds a vital symbolic role (one that says the United States holds a zero tolerance policy toward sex discrimination), it also maintains a very real and necessary role in our judicial process.

Outside our domestic justifications for the amendment lie international motivations. At a time when the United States is attempting to spread democracy to various parts of the world and has pushed for women’s equality to be included in the constitutions of other countries, it is embarrassing that we do not affirm the same equality in our Constitution that we strive for around the world. The closest thing we have for equality of sexes in the Constitution is the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. According to the Alice Paul Institute and National Council of Women’s Organizations, the equal protection clause, “has never been interpreted to grant equal rights on the basis of sex in the same way that the Equal Rights Amendment would.” Adding the amendment to our Constitution would be the strongest affirmation of our intrinsic creed as a country to achieve equal justice under law. Until we unite as a nation to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment into the Constitution, the rest of the world has every right to view us in the light of hypocrisy.

Thankfully, the ball seems to be rolling on the Equal Rights Amendment. Since the Madison Amendment, a new “three-state strategy” has emerged, pressuring three of the fifteen states that have not ratified the amendment to do so. The most vigorous ratification drives are in Illinois, Florida and Missouri.

We need an Equal Rights Amendment in our Constitution. The amending process to the Constitution is long and arduous, but eighty-two years of asking for equality has been long enough. We need the amendment in our Constitution, and we need it now.

Abby Bar-Lev welcomes comments at [email protected]