Wyoming Tribune Eagle Feb4, 2021 Denise Parrish Letter to the Editor
The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1923. It was introduced again and again each congressional session until it passed in 1972. Unlike most other constitutional amendments, though, Congress saddled this amendment with a deadline by which ratification by the states was to occur. The established deadline came and went without the required ratification by the required three-fourths of the states. Constitutionally mandated equal rights for women were declared dead.
But, not so fast.
In just the past few years, three more states have found cause and purpose in ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. These three bring the total of states who have ratified to 38, the required number to move equal rights for women into the United States Constitution. However, there are continuing legal questions that surround the ratification of the amendment after the date established by Congress.
Federal legislation has now been introduced to resolve this timing problem. House Joint Resolution 17 and Senate Joint Resolution 1 – both introduced within the first few weeks of the start of the current 117th Congress – would remove the previously established deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Women would finally have equal rights under the highest law of the land.
When she was Wyoming’s congressional representative, now-Sen. Cynthia Lummis was a leading proponent and part of a bipartisan coalition supportive of the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Unfortunately, those efforts were not then successful. However, hope has not been lost, with the reintroduction of legislation to recognize the finality of the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, given its ratification by 38 states.
As Ms. Lummis stated back in 2015, “Wyoming has traditionally been at the forefront of equal rights for women, and I am proud to carry on that tradition as Wyoming’s sole representative in the House. The Equal Rights Amendment that we continue to garner support for is a golden opportunity to ensure a secure future for women’s rights.” Let’s hope that she is still of that mindset and will support the legislation to lift the ratification deadline.
Some opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment have argued that it is not needed, since other federal laws have attempted to create equality. Yet, federal laws are more easily modified and repealed than is a provision of the United States Constitution. Formal acknowledgment of the ratification of this amendment by the National Archivist (making the process official) will provide a clear standard for determining whether discrimination against women has occurred in employment or education or other aspects of life.
Without the amendment, equality versus discrimination will be decided under a patchwork of laws and regulations – potentially becoming less equitable with each individual court case and legal interpretation.
One frequently heard argument in regard to whether the Equal Rights Amendment is needed relates to the existence of the 14th Amendment. This provision of the Constitution purports to guarantee all citizens equal protection of the laws of the United States. Yet, it has been applied only to actions by government and public officials – not to discrimination resulting from private actions of individuals.
Furthermore, legal action pursuant to the 14th Amendment has been judged under a less strict legal standard than cases that claim racial or religious discrimination. Based on the different legal standards that are applied to different types of discrimination cases, the equal protection touted in the 14th Amendment is not the same for all classes of people. The Equal Rights Amendment would remedy this and judge sexual discrimination on the same basis upon which racial and religious discrimination is judged.
Some others have expressed concern that embedding the Equal Rights Amendment into the U.S. Constitution would codify women’s reproductive choice ‘on demand’ into the Constitution, as well. Not so. Many of the federal court decisions involving reproductive rights, including those issued by the Supreme Court, have been decided on bases involving right to privacy or due process, rather than equal rights arguments.
Furthermore, there are multiple examples that a state’s support for the Equal Rights Amendment or equal protection guarantee does not necessarily correlate with that state’s legal climate for reproductive rights. They are separate issues, as was also noted by Ms. Lummis during her time as congresswoman.
The words of the Equal Rights Amendment are simple. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Period. That is it.
After nearly 100 years, the end of the process to enact legally enforceable women’s equality in our nation is within sight. However, there are still a few steps to cross the finish line. Sen. Barrasso, Sen. Lummis and Rep. Cheney can help us secure the future for women’s rights by supporting Senate Joint Resolution 1 and House Joint Resolution 17. Please ask them to do so. After all, they are in Congress representing the Equality State.
Denise Parrish is a resident of Cheyenne. She is also the Zonta International District 12 Advocacy Chair and President of the Zonta Club of Cheyenne, an organization of active and retired professionals empowering women through service and advocacy.