35 Years Later, A New Push For The ERA In NC

Mar 28, 2017

It's way past the deadline set by Congress - 35 years past - but women are organizing in North Carolina and nationwide around a bit of unfinished business: ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.

Organizers admit it may only be symbolic - though they also hold out hope that Congress might recognize a full ratification. It's the same kind of optimism that drove supporters in the 1970s. That's before the births of many women supporters today - like Gloria de los Santos, of the group Action NC.  She spoke at a press conference in Raleigh Monday.

“In 1972 before I was born … remember this is before some of us was born up here … the Equal Rights Amendment was passed in Congress and sent to the states for ratification. I'm sorry I didn't (mean to) make y'all feel old,” de los Santos laughed.

With de los Santos was a parade of activists and legislators - including a couple of men. They came to support two ERA ratification bills introduced last month that are languishing in the dead-end House and Senate Rules committees. They called on lawmakers to move the bills to the House and Senate floors.

The ERA’s main clause reads: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

It needed the backing of 38 states by 1979. It got only 35. Congress extended the deadline to 1982, but no more states approved it. Since then, it's kind of faded into history.

Until now. A new ERA ratification campaign is harnessing a new wave of women's activism that was on display at January's Women's March on Washington and similar rallies around the country.  Their goal initially was to get three more states to ratify.  Now that's down to two, thanks to Nevada's symbolic ratification last week.  

“That's all we need. Two more states to pass the ERA for Congress to ratify and have women's rights included in the U.S. Constitution,” said state Rep/. Carla Cunningham of Charlotte, who filed an ERA bill in the North Carolina House. 

But not so fast. Congress would still have to decide if previous ratifications count, and whether new ones are allowed before the Constitution gets another amendment.

Monday’s Raleigh press conference was a bit of a throwback. Some wore buttons or waved circular green and white signs that said "ERA YES" - the same logo ERA backers used during the 1970s.

But the issues they talked about were no throwback.

"Some politicians claim that women have made so much progress in recent decades that the ERA is obsolete, no longer necessary. Not according to any woman I know,” said Gailya Paliga, North Carolina president of the National Organization for Women.

NOW led the ERA campaign in the 1970s.  Paliga and others say there are still plenty of arguments for the amendment: Women still don't make equal pay with men, even if they have the same jobs. Women are more likely to be living in poverty than men. They're still underrepresented in corporate leadership. And violence against women remains a nationwide problem.

The North Carolina bills faces an uphill battle. Conservative Republicans hold sway in the legislature. Other groups hoping for improved legal status in the state - like LGBT people - haven't had any luck. ...  It may not be any easier for ERA supporters.  

RELATED LINKS

March 21, 2017, NPR.org, "Nevada Ratifies The Equal Rights Amendment ... 35 Years After The Deadline"