Ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) might seem like a moment from a bygone era, but the truth is that it only needs to be approved by one more state to become part of the U.S. Constitution.
On Tuesday, Democratic legislators and women’s rights advocates held a boisterous Capitol rally in hopes that Florida will become that state.
“The Constitution does not guarantee equal rights. The only right that the Constitution specifically affirms to be equal for women and men is the 19th Amendment,” said Patricia Farley, president of the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida, referring to the amendment that guarantees all American women the right to vote.
So far, 37 states have ratified the ERA, which says “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
The big push to pass the ERA happened in the 1970s, and some 35 states had ratified it when the effort stalled. In 2017, Nevada ratified it and Illinois followed suit in 2018. Virginia could have become final state, but that bill failed to get out of the Assembly earlier this year.
To get added to the U.S. Constitution, an amendment needs to be approved by three-fourths of the 50 state legislatures in the union (a total of 38 states).
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson from Jacksonville is sponsoring the resolution in the Senate. She has been in the Legislature since 2002, and can remember a resolution calling for approving the ERA proposed and rejected nearly every year.
“What is so hard about making sure that there are equal rights for men and women?” Gibson asked.
Democratic State Reps. Margaret Good from Sarasota and Dotie Joseph from Miami-Dade County are sponsoring the ERA resolution in the Florida House.
A 2015 poll showed almost universal support for the ERA, including 90 percent approval rate from Republicans, Joseph said. And she cited another statistic that may explain why the ERA isn’t already enshrined in the Constitution – 70 percent of Americans believe that equal rights based on sex is already protected.
“This is one case where perception is not reality,” she said.
The overarching question on a resolution like the ERA isn’t whether or not it can be passed in the GOP-led Florida Legislature. It’s whether it will even come up for debate in a GOP-controlled committee.
The resolution has been assigned to the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, which is chaired by state Rep. Bob Rommel, a Republican from Naples, and the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by David Simmons, a Republican from Central Florida. Activist Barbara DeVane said Rommel has told her that he doesn’t intend to bring the bill up for a vote in his committee, saying that he doesn’t believe it’s needed (a call to Rep. Rommel’s office was not immediately returned).
When asked about getting Republican support, Rep. Joseph said she had “no illusions” that it would be easy to get members from across the aisle to join what is seen by some Republicans as a partisan issue.
“There are more than 50 percent of women who vote in Florida,” Joseph said. “So they can pay attention to that or not.”
“This is not a partisan issue,” added state Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orlando. “I feel confident that as we carry this conversation throughout these halls that we can inspire Republicans, and especially Republican women, to stand with us.”
State Senator Lori Berman, a Democrat from Palm Beach County, offered a list of reasons why the ERA is needed now.
“Are women who file sexual discrimination claims in the court treated consistently? Are women receiving the same pay for the same work? Are government actions that treat males and females differently as a class subject to the highest level of political scrutiny?”
After each question, the crowd gathered behind her yelled a resounding, “No!”
Toni Van Pelt, the president of the National Organization for Women, told The Atlantic in January that advocates are now focusing on passing the ERA in North Carolina and Arizona.