BY ROBERTA MADDEN The majority of American citizens–women–still do not have constitutionally guaranteed rights except the right to vote. Without this guarantee of equality, any law can be overturned by a single majority vote in state legislatures or in Congress–a fact being demonstrated daily in today’s hostile political scene. Currently our courts view sex discrimination cases with intermediate or rational scrutiny, whereas cases of discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin are treated with strict scrutiny.
Ninety years ago, suffragist Alice Paul first proposed the Equal Rights Amendment. She recognized that only a constitutional amendment could guarantee equality under the law. It was not until 1972 that Congress, in a bipartisan vote, passed the ERA and sent it to the states for ratification. However, Congress tacked on a seven-year time limit (later extended by three years) on the states. The ERA was assumed to have expired in 1982, three states short of the 38 needed. North Carolina is one of 15 unratified states.
A decade later, the 27th Amendment, originally written in 1789, was ratified by 38 states after 203 years. This action prompted legal analyses concluding that the ERA remains legally viable and properly before the states. To clarify the matter, legislation has been introduced in Congress to eliminate the deadline.
RATIFY ERA-NC was recently organized for the sole purpose of promoting ratification of the ERA. The organization’s current focus is to work for passage of the congressional measures to remove the deadline, and then to advocate for ratification in the North Carolina General Assembly.
Women are casualties of the NC General Assembly
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Sounds reasonable. Who could disagree?
This year the North Carolina General Assembly did not consider legislation to install this guarantee, known as the Equal Rights Amendment, into the U.S. Constitution. That will happen at a later date.
However, the 2013 legislature made plenty of decisions on issues affecting women — all adversely. Some object to the term “war on women,” but most of the casualties of these legislative actions are women.
• The new photo ID law, which becomes effective in 2016, will disproportionately affect women. A recent analysis by the State Board of Elections shows that women are 54 percent of all registered voters in North Carolina but comprise 64 percent of the registered voters without a state-issued photo ID. In the 2012 general election, 85,264 women without a photo ID voted. How will these women, many of them elderly who have not had drivers’ licenses for years, overcome the barriers to get the necessary identification? Those born in other states will have to somehow track down their birth certificates to comply with the stringent new law.
• The state Council for Women recently reported that 17 percent of North Carolina women live in poverty or near-poverty. More than 1 in 5 women aged 18-64 have no health insurance. If the General Assembly had expanded Medicaid, paid for through the Affordable Care Act, more than 200,000 women would have had access to basic health care.
• The new law restricting reproductive health care will probably force 15 of the 16 women’s reproductive health clinics in the state to close.
• The General Assembly’s elimination of the Earned Income Tax Credit is a blow to working families, many of them headed by single mothers. Ending the EITC amounts to a tax increase on 907,000 low-income families who work and pay taxes. In 2010, median income for families headed by single women was only $20,393. More than half of all minimum wage workers in the state are women.
This op-ed was cross posted with permission.
Roberta Madden is co-director of RATIFY ERA-NC. For more information, see www.era-nc.org. Four years ago, Roberta Madden (Robbie) moved back to Western North Carolina, where she and her family had lived during the early 1960s. Before coming here, they resided in Louisiana for 41 years. Robbie served as Director of Racial and Social Justice at the YWCA Greater Baton Rouge, where she directed racial justice programs, including the successful Dialogue on Race.
Robbie lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment in Louisiana in the 1970s and testified for the ERA before legislative committees. The NAACP, the Louisiana Center for Women and Government, 100 Black Men, Leadership Greater Baton Rouge Alumni, and the Battered Women’s Center have honored her. In 2007 the national YWCA awarded her its One Imperative Award for her work on racial justice. She serves on the boards of North Carolina Women United, the League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Corporation in Black Mountain.
Since moving to the area in the fall of 2009, Robbie has organized the Stand Against Racism in Black Mountain and subsequent Dialogues on Race. As co-director of RATIFY ERA-NC, she is helping to organize a statewide grassroots movement for the Equal Rights Amendment. (photo by Barbara Bozeman)