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Saturday, 27 September 2014 00:00

Fight to ratify Equal Rights Amendment draws new interest

Written by Nicole Guadino | USA Today

It's not just your mother or grandmother's fight. Thousands of women are expected to rally on the west lawn of the Capitol on Saturday for women's equality, voting rights and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, adopted by Congress in 1972. The ERA needed ratification from just three more states when its deadline expired in 1982.

More than three decades later, advocates are working to advance the amendment's cause at the grass-roots level as some in Congress work to either repeal the amendment's deadline or start over.

Rally organizers say the Supreme Court's June 30 ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby has energized interest in the ERA. That 5-4 decision said the 2010 Affordable Care Act can't require certain businesses to provide free insurance coverage for birth control if they object on religious grounds.

"My reproductive rights should be protected and no one should have control over that but me," said Wilmington University student Katie Meinhaldt, 23, of Newark, Del., who will attend the rally.

Pay equity is another factor driving renewed enthusiasm for the Equal Rights Amendment. Women on average are paid 77 cents for every dollar men are paid, according to the ERA Coalition.

"I feel the need to write 'Sam' on my résumé instead of 'Samantha' because I think I'm more likely to be hired if I'm perceived to be more masculine," said Catholic University student Samantha Aurilia, 20, of Florham Park, N.J., who will attend the rally.

The amendment drafted by New Jersey suffragist Alice Paul in 1923 was introduced every session of Congress until it passed, reworded, in 1972.

The proposed constitutional amendment — "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." — would give both men and women new legal recourse in sex discrimination cases. It also would give Congress the power to enforce it through legislation.

The amendment has been ratified by 35 states. Constitutional amendments require ratification from three-fourths — or 38 — of the states.

Congress is considering amendment resolutions that take two different approaches. The "three-state" approach, sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., would repeal the ratification deadline and make the ERA part of the Constitution when three more states ratify it.

The "fresh start" approach — by Menendez and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. — would start over with a new resolution and no ratification deadline. Menendez and Maloney also are co-sponsors of the three-state approach legislation.

"If we can get attention on this issue, I think we have a reasonable chance for this issue to come before us," Cardin said. "That's why the rallies are important." He and Speier also are co-sponsors of the legislation that would take a fresh start on the ERA.

The three-state strategy has the most support from advocates, according to Jacqueline Nantier, of We are Woman, one of the groups leading Saturday's rally. She called that approach "our best shot."

"If you look at the demographics of the South, to start over again would basically put us back 50 years," she said.

But the three-state approach would surely face legal challenges. Five states passed resolutions in the 1970s to rescind their ratifications.

A legal battle over the ERA, however, would be "wonderful" because it would remind people the ERA was never ratified, said Andrea Miller, co-executive director of Progressive Democrats of America, another rally organizer.

"The biggest enemy we have right now is that most people think this is already done," she said.

In February, a subcommittee in Virginia's Republican-controlled House of Delegates killed a proposal to ratify the ERA. The panel's chairwoman, Republican Del. Margaret Ransone, told amendment advocates they've already accomplished their mission.

"I've never felt like I was discriminated against," Ransone said, according to The Virginian-Pilot newspaper.

ERA advocates say Illinois' House of Representatives could reignite the national debate if it votes as early as this fall to ratify the amendment.

"That would give incredible momentum to the three-state strategy and of course raise awareness about the Equal Rights Amendment in general," said Bettina Hager, deputy director of the ERA Coalition.

Link to original article from USA Today

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