By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The ERA Amendment needs backing from 38 states to be included in the U.S. Constitution. Right now we are at 37 states, could the state of Virginia make it 38?
It's an exciting week for women, and not just because Keanu Reeves has a girlfriend in her 40s.
Democrats took full control of Virginia's House and Senate on Nov. 6, setting the state up to be the 38th and final state needed to enact the Equal Rights Amendment, which would finally(!) give women equal rights under the Constitution.
You may remember that Illinois was the 37th state to ratify the ERA last year, more than 45 years after the measure was approved by Congress in 1972. It needs backing from 38 states to be included in the U.S. Constitution. Legal experts debate whether that can even happen at this point, since those 38 votes were supposed to have taken place by a 1982 deadline.
But most agree that Congress can vote to extend that deadline. And it should.
The ERA would amend the Constitution to say: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
"Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver, in a segment devoted to the ERA in June, put it this way:
"It's one of those things that's so obvious you assume we already have it. It's like when you see baking soda at the store. You think, 'I don't need to buy baking soda. I definitely already have baking soda. It's a staple.' And then you get home and you're baking a cake and you reach in the cupboard for baking soda and you realize, '(Expletive)! Women still aren't guaranteed equal rights under the Constitution.' "
Kate Kelly, a human rights attorney and host of an ERA podcast set to debut in January 2020, tweeted a handy primer about the ERA on Tuesday morning, in anticipation of Virginia's election results.
"The most common 'argument' I see against the Equal Rights Amendment is some version of: 'What rights are you denied?' / 'What rights do men have that women don't?' " Kelly wrote. "The opposition to #ERANow has gotten more sophisticated since all of their culture-war arguments are now moot.
"They used to use scare-tactics about women being dragged out of their homes to serve in the military, or talk about the Boogeyman of gay marriage, but, women now serve at the military at all levels & gay marriage (check mark emoji). So ... all they have left is to try & convince us we DON'T NEED IT."
She lists rights that women don't have under the U.S. Constitution:
"Women don't have the right to equal pay. We don't have the right to bodily autonomy & are often discriminated against because of pregnancy. Women don't have the right to be free from violence."
And when women want to fight against discrimination, that fact that discrimination on account of sex is not explicitly written into the Constitution hurts them, Kelly argues.
"Women have to not only prove the law negatively impacts us, but that IT WAS ON PURPOSE," she tweeted. "So, sexist laws are easier to keep on the books. Lawmakers can just shrug & say: 'that was not our intent!'
And as Oliver pointed out in his June segment:
"Why do we still need the ERA? It's because laws can be robbed back by a single act of Congress, and policy guidelines can go away based on who's in charge.
"That is happening right now," he continued. "Congress recently let the Violence Against Women Act expire. And the Trump administration has rescinded more than 20 policy guidelines on Title IX anti-discrimination laws."
Come on, Virginia. Do your thing. Forty-seven years is long enough to wait for equal rights. ___ Join the Heidi Stevens Balancing Act Facebook group, where she continues the conversation around her columns and hosts occasional live chats. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.