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Great Expectations: Women Should Demand Payback for Helping President Obama

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This week, the women of America spoke with a voice that was loud, clear and unified, and it is now universally acknowledged that our votes helped President Obama win the election.

President Obama and his team worked very hard to convince us that he needed more time to 'be the change'. In the end, even in the face of severe economic problems and worrisome doubt about his abilities to push America back from the brink, we gave it to him.

We even have an historic number of women in the Senate -- 20 -- no doubt also helped by women's votes.

Women have a vision of a different America: an America that shows its citizens -- by actions and not just political lip -- that every single one of us is equal in the eyes of the law, regardless of gender, race, religion, politics or sexual orientation. It is an America led by brave men and women who will step up to the plate, work to unite this divided nation and start the healing so we can rebuild our economy, create more jobs and bolster our standing in the world once again.

What's more, we want to go to sleep at night knowing that in the morning, our bodies will still belong to us, go to work every day and get the same amount of money in our paycheck each week as our male colleagues and rest easy knowing that we are protected by the U.S. Constitution.

That's where the payback comes in.

I don't mean to sound ungrateful. President Obama has shown a great deal of support for women on many levels, starting with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which he signed just nine days into his first term as President. That's a solid beginning, and women across the country applauded this bold move. However, it's time for the President to go beyond that.

It's time to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, a simple sentence that says it all:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Why do we need the Equal Rights Amendment? Last year, I asked Rep. Carolyn Maloney (who was reelected this week also) this same question. Here's what she told me:

Laws can be repealed. Judicial attitudes can shift. We continue to see demonstrable cases of systemic gender discrimination -- even in this day and age, when women have come so far. Establishing the clear unambiguous language of the Equal Rights Amendment into the U.S. Constitution would have a real impact on our national consciousness. Our democracy rests on the principle of 'liberty and justice for all.' We need the ERA to ensure that this concept applies equal to women.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) regularly reintroduces the Equal Rights Amendment to Congress, only to see it languish.

I put this question out on Facebook and Twitter:

Should women expect President Obama to push for the ratification and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment?

Here's what some women had to say (reprinted with permission):

"It was the woman's vote that helped put him over the edge. He needed our help now we need his!"
-Darlene Burns

"Yes! He has not kept up his promise to the biggest group who elected him -- women. He needs to work on passing the ERA ASAP, as well as not concede anymore on important issues such as Medicaid, Social Security, reproductive justice and more, which impact women more than men."
-Jerin Arifa

"It was the middle-class women who helped to vote President Obama in for another four years. Having him pass the Equal Rights Amendment is not just something to do as "pay back" for helping him, but it is the RIGHT thing to do for all women."
-Cathy Chester

"It's long past time! And yes, the Democrats -- not just Obama, but most of the party -- have been very disappointing in the way they've dragged their feet on women's rights. Let's get moving on this. It's ridiculous that in this country, which is supposedly the world's paragon of liberty and equality, women are STILL viewed as second-class citizens. Equal rights now!"
-Heather-Rose Ryan

"If anyone asked me why I was voting for Obama, Equal Rights was my main reason. I'd like to think I would have marched for equal rights in the '60s, had I been older. This period leaves a sad stain on our history. I don't want that again. I want to be on the right side of this issue."
-Joanne Nelson Leonardis

Where does the Equal Rights Amendment stand right now? It was passed out of Congress in 1972 and has been ratified by 35 of the necessary 38 states. When three more states vote yes, it is possible that the ERA could become the 28th Amendment. On June 22, 2011, ERA ratification bills were introduced in the Senate (S.J.Res. 21) by lead sponsor Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and in the House of Representatives (H.J.Res. 69) by lead sponsor Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).

On Mar. 8, 2011, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced H.J.Res. 47, which would remove the ERA's ratification deadline and make it part of the Constitution when three more states ratify. The Senate companion bill, S.J.Res. 39, was introduced on Mar. 22, 2012 by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD).

There is a goal in place to remove the original deadline and have the Equal Rights Amendment become a law in the U.S. Constitution when three more states ratify by 2015. Visit www.united4equality.com for up-to-date information.

We are clearly forging ahead, but it's going to take the full and public support of President Obama to make it happen by pushing Congress and the Senate to support it, too. Complacency will kill any chance of passing the Equal Rights Amendment, but we also need to change the tone of the discourse. Let's stop thinking about it in terms of 'us against them,' 'left vs. right,' 'conservative vs. liberal' and 'men vs. women.' Reframe the issue of the Equal Rights Amendment and ask yourself this question:

Should women expect President Obama to put his power behind the Equal Rights Amendment?

Surely, a President who is the leader and protector of democracy in the world, and who has implored other countries to include the word "women" in their constitutions (Afghanistan and Iraq) will want to protect the legal rights of women in his own country. No doubt he would want this to be a key component of his presidential legacy. Right?

We're counting on it.

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