The ERA … because “Duh!”

I watched a snippet of Patricia Arquette testing before Congress about the Equal Rights Amendment. In that minute-and-a-half, she said:

I come here not as a constitutional lawyer but as a citizen. As an American woman to advocate for what I feel is critical for our. I come with good will and the faith that when we examine the reality of American women today and remember the historic injustices women have faced in our country, we will all feel compelled to do what we must to ensure that women are afforded every legal right and equal protection in our country. Women have waited for 232 years to be enshrined as full and equal citizens – Why? Because in 1787 Women were left out of the Constitution – intentionally.

While the Constitution says nothing about deadlines for amendments, Congress put a deadline on the Equal Rights Amendment when it was passed in 1972.

I am here to appeal to you to remove the 1982 deadline placed by Congress on ratification of the ERA.

In those few seconds, she explained something I’ve never understood before: what happened to the ERA.

According to The Hill magazine/newspaper “It was the first congressional hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment in 36 years.

Congress passed the amendment in 1972, but it failed to be ratified by enough states before a March 1979 deadline.

I thought the Amendment had died a natural death, that it stalled because people just didn’t want it anymore. I hadn’t known that there was a deadline, as I had never heard of a deadline on an Amendment. I still don’t know if other Amendments have “sell by” dates, but an idea whose time has come doesn’t stop coming on its own. If Amendments are relatively permanent after the vote, shouldn’t they be permanently open for debate, once the process has started? And — as I suspect — this Amendment is somehow different, why is it different?

One of the reasons I write about racism and rights is because I like to make sure we’ve finished old issues before I move on to “the new issue”. It became apparent years ago that the rights of African-Americans — despite all of Dr. King’s work and a voting rights act in 1964 — were no longer of interest to people in power. In fact, the government in the 1980’s was trying to take away those gains that were a part of our democracy’s best ideas.

The issue of equal rights for women is the same thing, it seems to me. Sexism, and the belief that some people are inherently of less worthy of rights — in this case, women– is not an issue we have conquered yet. Just as I will believe in, and fight for, equal rights for my Black brothers and sisters to my dying day, so I will believe in, and fight for, women being seen as equal until I die.

We cannot celebrate as a society unless we take everyone in the democracy car. We cannot claim that America is the Land of the Free if everyone isn’t free. Democracy requires as many voices to be heard as possible. Cutting off half the population doesn’t do that. We can make better choices when we have more information. We get more information by asking for/welcoming more opinions.

I keep hearing that American companies want and need more highly trained workers. If America offers full rights according to the law, we would have an influx of educated women from around the world coming to our shores. Women would leave Saudi Arabia and never go back. Women would leave any oppressive regime — Afghanistan, Iraq, countries plagued by Boko Haram — and so many other countries, if we offered a beacon for them to come here.

And, of course, women here would have all their rights as well, and presumably be happier for it. We would be a beacon, but we would also have the light for ourselves. No one loses when more voices are heard.

Now, what if individual women don’t want to have equal rights? I know that may seem absurd or silly, but Phyllis Schafly didn’t want the ERA. Neither did my mother. She used to say, “I’m already equal with men. I don’t need a law to tell me that!”. There are, I assume, many “traditional” women in culture who — for whatever reasons — like patriarchy, like the traditional roles, like being stay-home mothers, like making fewer decisions, and so on.

There’s a reason that there are conservative women and, though I don’t understand it, it is simply true that they exist. So what about them?

Rights are like credit — you can have it and never use it. It’s still good to know it’s there. But for all the women who want to do new things, who want to be something other than traditional roles, legal equality is necessary to get things done. It used to be that women couldn’t get a loan without their husband’s signature. I once knew a man who didn’t let his wife drive and when he was dying, he realized that he had crippled her ability to cope without him. It used to be that husbands could have their wives put away at an insane asylum if they disagreed. It used to be that women had no rights over their bodies. If they didn’t want to have sex, the law said they had to anyway. If a husband got s job in another city, of course “the little miss” was going. If a woman wanted to keep her family name alive, too bad if she got married. In all of this, I have never understood how you could hurt someone that you love, so equality with a spouse, or at least considering them in decision making, was simply a matter of fact. I suppose that it’s that way for most men I know.

There are some who would argue against the ERA using the Bible, and it is their right to believe what they want. They can quote the Apostle Paul until they’re blue in the face for all I care. I believe that everything God created has value, and all humans are equal in the eyes of God. Why would I think this? God gave women brains. God must want them to use them. If God values them, I should. Regarding women clergy: if God decides that a woman is called to ministry, and all appearances say that, who am I to say otherwise? Ordain women or stop baptizing them.

It is the same in any field. We ask “Is the world ready for a woman in this position or that? Can a woman be ….., fill in the blank)?”. The answer should be, “I don’t know. Let’s see.” There are those who say, “Is America ready for a woman President? They said the same about a Black President and Obama proved he was more than up to the job. Whether we are ready or not, they are.

Finally, on the human level, I have two daughters. I never want to say to them “you can’t do that because you’re a girl or woman”. I never want to hear anyone else say it to them either. I want them to dream and believe in themselves and all of their possibilities. Reality will wear out their inappropriate dreams as life goes by. That’s enough. Woe to those who would put stumbling blocks in front of my daughters. Let ‘Em try! Right is right, and, as long as I’m alive, I will believe in, and fight for, what’s right.

Making a law — an Amendment to our Constitution– that states that women are of equal value in the eyes of the law is simply stating what is. There is still plenty of freedom within the law, and democracy is served better by valuing the voices of all its people. Let’s have an ERA and let’s have it now.

Resisting in Peace,

John