by Mary Ann Sherman
What is E.R.A.?
E.R.A., the Equal Rights Amendment, is the propsoed 27th amendment ot the United States Constitution. The complete wording of the amendment is:
Sec. 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Sec. 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Sec. 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
What will E.R.A. do?
The E.R.A. provides that women and men have equal rights under the law. This does not mean that women and men are the same but that the law cannot treat them differently solely because of their sex. E.R.A. applies to government action, but not to private action or relationships. Throughout our history, state and federal legislators have passed laws that specify different roles for men and women-- roles based on stereotypes of what men and women should be doing. E.R.A. will prevent government action that creates and futhers legal stereotypes. E.R.A. will prevent goverment action that creates and futhers legal stereotypes. E.R.A. will not prevent government action based on legitimate needs and functions of individuals.
Why aren't present laws enough?
No United States Supreme Court majority has ever support a general application of the 14th amendment to sex-based discrimination. As a practical matter, for women to ba assured redress under the 14th amdnement for sex discrimination, the court would have to establish sex a "suspect classification" in the same way that racial and religious discrimination are considered. Now an idnividual challenging a sex-discriminatory law has the burden of proof to show that a law is an improper discrimination; making sex a suspect classification would shift the burden of proof to the government which wanted to uphold the law or practice. In fact, in the Fronteiero decision of May, 1973, several members of the court blocked the full application of the 14th amendment to women on the grounds that the E.R.A., which would have the same effect, was before the states for ratification!
In fact, if the 14th amendment has been applied to women's rights, there would have been no need for passage of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote.
Why not eliminate sex discrimination by changing the statues?
The great advantage of E.R.A. over a piecemeal statuaroty approach are clear:
1. The E.R.A. would be a well-known remedy. Women who don't spen full time poring over federal legislation may not be able to tell the boss that some practice is illegal under the Executive Order 11246 (chances are the boss hasn't heard of it either). Knowing of one comprehensive remedy will enable women to invoke rights they may not have but do not know about.
2. The E.R.A. would provide a permanent remedy. Passage of individual laws barring sex discrimination takes years of careful nurturing, coalition building, money, time and energy. Each individual law is subject to compromise and bargaining, to political whims and trends. The E.R.A. would provide a legal impetus for reform, independent of political mobilization.
3. E.R.A. woudl reach areas that statues do not. Much of the sex discrimination that people enouncter is the result of government-permitted practices and unwritten policies, rather than the result of sex-discriminatory laws. For example, a failure to give the same vocational training or educational opportunities to women in prisons as given to men in common practice. The E.R.A. would provide a firm legal basis for challenging that discrimination.
4. E.R.A. provides continuning protection. Individual laws may be easily repealed or amended, often with little public awarness. Only a constitutional amendment provides future protection, insuring that government will not be allowed to reinsitute old forms of discrimination.
In short, the argument for piecemeal measures is a delaying tactic. They create the illusion that stronger, more comprehensive measures are unnecessary.
How will the E.R.A. become law?
Thirty-five states have ratified the E.R.A. Approval by 3 more states before March 22, 1979, will bring the total to 38-- the three fourths required to amend the constitution. States will then have two years to review and revise their laws, regulations and practices-- ample time to bring them into compliance before the E.R.A. takes effect.
How will E.R.A. affect states' rights?
Section 2 of E.R.A. (see first paragraph of this article) does not take away states' rights. Whenever the constitution is amended, the states also have the right to act and enforce the amendment in state courts! Almost identical language appears in the 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 23rd, 24th, and 26th amendments to the consitution.
How did the LWV decide to support E.R.A.?
In May of 1972, only weeks after congressional passage of the E.R.A., delegates to the League's national convention overhwelmingly approved equal rights for all, regardless of sex, as part of the human resources position. At the same convention, delegates voted to support the Equal Rights Amendment as one of the major ways to take action in support of the HR position. The adoption of support for the E.R.A. was not a decision of the national board but was a decision of the League's ultimate diecision making body-- the convention-- to which every local League in the nation-- no matter how small-- has an opportunity to send representatives. Prior to that convention, LWVUS board had taken no position on passage of E.R.A. in congress; the convention action was a result of grass roots insistence from local Leagues around the nation.
Any questions on E.R.A?
Since E.R.A. will continue to be a top priotiy of the League of Women Voters of Florida, some space in every Florida Voter will be allocated to answer questions from members and the public about E.R>A. Send your questions to the LWV of Florida, 1035-S South Florida Av., Lakeland 33803. As many questions as possible (those of broadest concern) will be answered in the Florida Voter; others will be responded to through memoranda to local Leagues.
State Archives of Florida: Series 79, Box 1, Folder 37
A July-August 1977 pamphlet explaining the purpose of the Equal Rights Amendment; a message from lobbyist Mary Anne Sherman; the state program 1977-1979; and highlights from the 1977 convention. Members listed include Fran Boudolf, Ruth Ann Bramson, Arnetta Brown, Roxanna Dear, Deannie Picciotti, Judy Blankenship, Polly Doughty, Jean Martin, Sherry Newman, and Elise Webb.
Passed by Congress in 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) proposed that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex." Though 35 states had ratified the ERA by the extended 1982 deadline, it still needed the support of a three-fourths majority, or 38 states, to amend the U.S. Constitution. In Florida, the amendment was introduced or voted on in every legislative session from 1972 until 1982. Though it passed the Florida House of Representatives on several occasions, it never passed the Senate. With the deadline fast approaching, Florida was one of four states to hold a special legislative session to decide on the fate of the ERA in the summer of 1982. While it passed the House (60-58), it again failed in the Senate with a 22-16 vote against ratification. It did not pass any of the other three state legislatures in special session that summer, and the ERA was defeated as a constitutional amendment.