Delaware needs an equal rights amendment for women:
Suzanne Moore, Susan DelPesco, Aida Waserstein and Karen Peterson Published 3:11 p.m. ET Jan. 31, 2018 | Updated 4:11 p.m. ET Feb. 1, 2018
Beyond bringing women together in record numbers to say “Enough is enough,” the historic 2017 March on Washington and the more recent #MeToo movement have renewed energy for passage and ratification of an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The ERA prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex was first introduced in Congress in 1923, 136 years following the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. It took another 49 years for the amendment to pass both houses of Congress, only to fall short of ratification in 1982 by three states.
The amendment has been introduced in Congress every year since then but has never made it to the floor of either chamber for a vote. So, here we stand 35 years later, with over half of our population still facing the reality of their rights not being protected at the same level as those of men.
While renewed interest in passing an ERA is a welcome development, there are still difficult hurdles to overcome, not the least of which is the current dysfunction in Washington. In addition, the resolution with the best chance of passage by Congress, the “start all over” resolution, involves the same lengthy ratification process followed in the 1970s, whereby three-fourths of the states’ legislatures must approve the amendment before it takes effect.
In the meantime, 23 state constitutions include ERAs. Delaware’s does not. That absence is noteworthy since women comprise 51 percent of Delaware’s population. House Bill 299, introduced in the Delaware House of Representatives on Jan. 15 by Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, would remedy this injustice. The bill states: “Equality of Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of the sex of the individual.”
Although a Delaware ERA, like all state ERAs, lacks the force and scope a federal ERA would have, it is critically important in providing protection against discriminatory state and local laws. Equally important, constitutions reflect and guide the states’ and the nation’s foundational values.
The absence of an unequivocal declaration of equal rights for women in the U.S. and 27 state constitutions enables and allows to continue unchecked a culture of disrespect for women. While perhaps not a proximal cause, that culture contributes to the sexual harassment, assault and discrimination that are a part of the daily experience for too many women.
The lack of an ERA also perpetuates an unjust legal system. This may be reflected in a 2000 Supreme Court ruling striking down the right for victims of gender-based violence (97 percent of whom are women) to seek restitution in a federal court – a crucial provision of the federal
Violence Against Women Act. The basis of the ruling, beyond Chief Justice Rehnquist’s and others’ stated belief that remedies for violence against women had no place in federal jurisdiction, was that nothing in the Constitution supported the provision.
It should be stated that, since the ERA has never passed, it is not known whether it would have made a difference in this critically important case, although there are legal scholars who feel it would have.
Two hundred and thirty years after its ratification in 1787, the U.S. Constitution, written by and for white men, continues to inadequately protect the rights of women. It should be distressing to Delawareans that our state constitution perpetuates this injustice.
HB 299 will ensure basic human dignity and fair and equal treatment for all Delawareans. Another year should not pass without action by our General Assembly.
Suzanne Moore is the founder and president of Delaware ERANow. Susan DelPesco and Aida Waserstein are retired from the state judiciary. Karen Peterson is a retired state senator.
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