North Carolina Group Joins Efforts to Revive the Equal Rights Amendment

By Staff

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Audre Lorde

“Certainly the constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”
Justice Antonin Scalia

dr. e. faye williams at tuesday's press conference
dr. e. faye williams at tuesday’s press conference

On Tuesday April 12th the pay received by American men in 2015 was finally equaled by American women doing the exact, same jobs. American women are paid, on the average, 78 cents on the dollar what men are paid. If the woman in question is African American or Latino the average wage comparison drops even further. No legal remedy exists under US law for pay equity and under our current system the gender poverty gap has been growing at alarming and historical rates.

Seeking to find some light at the end of the tunnel, a new non-partisan, statewide organization calling itself, the ERA-NC Alliance held a press conference at Wake Forest University to announced renewed efforts to advocate for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, better known as the ERA. Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in North Carolina is intended as part of a nationwide campaign to begin the Amendment process again or achieve ratification by securing the three additional states needed for inclusion in the U.S. Constitution. (North Carolina did not ratify the amendment the first time around.)

While many of us remember the ERA from the media surrounding the push for ratification in the late 1970’s the Amendment was actually first written and proposed in 1923 by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman. The ERA was introduced the same year and throughout it’s history has had bipartisan support and opposition. Republican Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon both supported the ERA while Eleanor Roosevelt and prominent labor and poverty advocates on the Left opposed it. Middle-class women have historically been generally supportive while those speaking for the working class offered strong opposition, arguing that employed women needed special protections regarding working conditions and work hours.

In 1972 the ERA passed both houses of Congress and was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification. It seemed headed for quick approval until right wing icon Phyllis Schlafly mobilized conservative women in opposition, arguing that the ERA would disadvantage housewives and put their daughters at risk of being drafted into the armed services. In 1980 as the Republican Party fully engaged in the culture wars as part of the “Southern Strategy” and in an effort to reach out to socially conservative “Reagan Democrats” the ERA was finally struck from the GOP’s national platform. The United states Congress set a ratification deadline of March 22, 1979. In 1977, the amendment received 35 of the necessary 38 state ratifications. Five southern and southwestern states rescinded their ratifications prior to the 1979 deadline. In 1978, a joint resolution of Congress extended the ratification deadline to June 30, 1982. From 1972 to 1982, the North Carolina General Assembly deliberated ERA ratification unsuccessfully six times. No ERA advocacy campaigns took place in the North Carolina from 1982 to 2014.

No additional states ratified the ERA and it died.

Since the ERA’s failure to attain ratification in the early 1980s, numerous pieces of legislation have been passed to achieve gender equality in the U.S. According to many attorneys and women’s rights advocates, these laws are not uniform or comprehensive, and are subject to be rolled back by legislators. “In too many cases they have failed at the judicial level, where gender discrimination does not receive strict judicial scrutiny as do cases of discrimination based on race or religion. The ERA-NC Alliance members believe that only when women are written into the Constitution will true gender equality be possible.” Stated the organization in a press release.

In March 2015, using the three-state strategy, supporters of the ERA led by RATIFY ERA-NC and NC4ERA joined forces to have the ERA re-introduced in the NCGA. Lead sponsors of the bills were Representative Carla Cunningham with HB166 and Senator Floyd McKissick with SB184. The House bill did not make it out of the Judiciary 1 Committee prior to the April crossover deadline, but SB184 is exempt from that deadline and remains viable in the Rules Committee.

Marena Groll, founder of NC 4 ERA, points out that recent legislation like the discriminatory HB2 make the case for constitutional protection. “It’s bad enough that it targets women with the restriction on minimum wage; women and racial minorities are minimum wage workers the state is willing to put at great risk. But it also restricts legal actions available to women who are discriminated against in the workplace.”

“Even though black and Latina women are more greatly undervalued when it comes to our pay, all women are undervalued in our society,” explains Dr. E. Faye Williams, President and CEO of the National Congress of Black Women. “It’s time to change that now, and we want to be a part of making the necessary changes.”

Roberta Madden, Ratify ERA NC Co-Director, has been a passionate proponent of the ERA for 44 years. She and Groll are co-chairs of the ERA-NC Alliance. “We are now on the brink of a national consensus that women and men must have equal rights,” Madden stated. “The formation of the new ERA-NC Alliance is a sign that we will never, never, never give up.”

According to ERA-NC, the organization plans on pursuing two routes toward ratification. One would be the traditional process described in Article V of the Constitution, requiring passage by a two-thirds majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives, followed by ratification by three-quarters of the 50 states trying to reach the magic number of 38.

They will also attempt the ratification by three of the 15 state legislatures that did not ratify the ERA in 1972-82, based on legal analysis that when three more states vote yes, this three-state strategy could withstand legal challenge and put the ERA into the Constitution.

Legislators supporting these efforts at the state level include Forsyth County’s Rep. Evelyn Terry. Other members of the local delegation to the state legislature have not taken a public position. Rep. Virginia Foxx and Senator Richard Burr are both on record in opposition.

You can learn more about or become involved with ERA-NC Alliance and their efforts HERE.