Effort to pass new Equal Rights Amendment long overdue, says women's studies director

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

House and Senate Democrats have reintroduced the Equal Rights Amendment, an effort to amend the U.S. Constitution to enshrine women's rights. The director of the women's studies program at the University of North Texas says this effort, 25 years after the ERA originally failed to gain enough state approvals, is long overdue.

"I think the new version of the ERA speaks for itself. Passage of this important legislation assures that the legal community takes gender discrimination seriously," says Dr. Sandra Spencer.

The renamed Women's Equality Amendment has one key line among its 52 words: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." That means that legal claims of gender discrimination would be subject to the same strict scrutiny given by courts to allegations of racial discrimination, Spencer says.

"We expect other countries to live up to this; yet we really have no guarantee of redress in the American legal system," she says.

The Women's Equality Amendment has nearly 200 House and 10 Senate co-sponsors. Backers are vowing to bring it up for a vote by the end of this session of Congress. Spencer points out that new laws and new amendments can be expected after new legislators are elected and begin their Congressional terms.

"Without firm legislation such as the ERA in place, new legislation predicated on other factors could affect gender. Simply put, the ERA will serve as an effective gatekeeper against this happening," she says.

The reintroduction of the amendment is already drawing critics, including Eagle Forum president Phyllis Schlafly, who opposed the ERA when it was introduced in the 1970s. But Spencer says it's inconceivable that Schlafly would have many supporters on this issue, pointing out that she has "made a career out of telling other women to stay home and forget careers."

"Her dire predictions about unisex bathrooms and women being drafted have not come to pass. Now she's dusted off her old ideas and brought up a couple of new fear tactics to convince people that women don't need equality guaranteed by law," Spencer says.

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