SALT LAKE CITY – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Peterson has challenged the Utah Legislature to belatedly ratify the Equal Right Amendment (ERA) during its 2021 general session.
“The Equal Rights Amendment is the beginning of a deep commitment to change how women are viewed and treated in our state and in our country,” Peterson said Tuesday during a Utah ERA Coalition event held via Zoom technology. “As governor, I will listen to women, I will support women and I will empower women to lead.”
Despite being the first state to grant women the right to vote in 1870, speakers at the ERA Coalition event emphasized that Utah still lags behind the nation in term of equal pay for equal work and female representation in the Legislature.
“We are falling short across the board and the only way to fix these problems is by having women pave the way,” said Karina Brown of Nibley, Perterson’s running mate. “We need more women writing the rules, setting the tone and shaping the culture that affects every one of us.”
“The time for Utah to stand up for women is right now,” said Kelly Whited Jones, the co-chair of the Utah ERA Coalition, citing recent polling results showing that 70 percent of Utahns favor ratification of the ERA. “Encourage your representatives to do just that. And if they will not, it is time to vote in someone who will.”
While the sentiments expressed were undoubtedly sincere, the Utah ERA Coalition event was pure political theater since the congressionally mandated deadline for ratification of ERA expired decades ago.
The roots of the ERA movement date to the 1920s, when the proposed text of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing gender equality drafted by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman was introduced in Congress.
The measure was finally passed by the U.S. House and Senate five decades later and sent to state legislatures for consideration with a deadline of Mar. 22, 1979.
The ERA needed ratification by 38 states and had garnered the approval of 35 legislatures by 1977, when strong opposition led by activist Phyllis Schlafly gathered political momentum. Under conservative pressure, lawmakers in five states – Nebraska, Tennessee, Idaho, Kentucky and South Dakota – voted to rescind their approval of the amendment.
In 1978, Congress passed a joint resolution extending the ERA ratification deadline to June 30, 1982, but no additional states ratified the amendment during that period.
In recent years, however, women’s advocacy groups have again pushed to focus national attention on the issue of gender equality.
In 2017, the Nevada legislature ratified the ERA, the first state to do so in 40 years. Illinois followed suit a year later, as did Virginia in January 2020.
Because they dispute the right of states to rescind their previous ratification votes, some women’s rights advocates claim that Virginia’s decision makes the ERA a valid part of the U.S. Constitution. But dissenting legal scholars dismiss the three recent ratification votes as coming after the amendment’s deadline.
In February, the U.S. House of Representatives sought to undermine that perspective by voting largely along party lines to rescind the previous deadlines for the ratification of the ERA.
The constitutionality of the House vote is dubious at best, however, and the effort has no support in the U.S. Senate or the administration of President Donald Trump.
The text of the proposed Equal Right Amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”