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Roberta Francis

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Obama, Romney and the Equal Rights Amendment

Posted: 10/31/2012 2:35 pm

Equality or not equality? Here is the question:

"Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says the Constitution does not prohibit sex discrimination, but an April 2012 poll by Daily Kos/SEIU shows 91 percent support for constitutionally guaranteed equal rights. Do you believe the Constitution should specifically guarantee that women and men have equal legal rights?"

In late August, this question was emailed to Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign by Chelsea Strayer, president of Mormons for ERA. The response so far: none.

At the same time, as National Council of Women's Organizations' ERA Task Force Co-Chair, I sent the question to President Barack Obama's campaign. The reply:

"President Obama has a proven track record of supporting the ERA. As an Illinois State Senator, he was a sponsor of a joint resolution ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, and as a United States Senator he was a cosponsor of the Women's Equality Amendment."

The simple justice of the Equal Rights Amendment -- "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex" -- has been wildly misrepresented by opponents. (For documented facts, see click here.)

The ERA was passed by Congress in 1972 but got only 35 of the needed 38 state ratifications by a June 30, 1982 deadline. It is reintroduced in every session of Congress, and legal analysis proposes that the existing state ratifications may still be valid.

The 2012 Democratic Party platform includes ERA ratification, while the Republican Party dropped its 40-year support of the ERA in 1980. The priority that Gov. Romney gives the issue can be inferred from his campaign's silence on it.

Failure to support equal rights for women and men is reactionary public policy that threatens many mainstream legal advances of the past half-century, such as Title IX. It's also harmful to individuals, families, and the economy.

As political theorist/activist Gloria Steinem points out, if women workers received equal pay instead of only 77 percent of what male workers earn, it would be the largest single economic stimulus and anti-poverty program in our history -- not a government "handout," but a justifiable cost to employers of doing business fairly.

The ERA also calls attention to the candidates' theo-political backgrounds and the preconceptions their Supreme Court nominees would bring to cases of sex discrimination.

President Obama was lambasted by conservatives with "guilt by association" because Rev. Jeremiah Wright, minister of the progressive United Church of Christ that the Obamas formerly attended in Chicago, preached hyperbolically liberal sermons.

Gov. Romney has faced virtually no questions about his relationship to the beliefs and actions of his own Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, or Mormon Church), which since the 1970s has orchestrated anti-ERA political activism nationally through its members.

In Under the Banner of Heaven, author Jon Krakauer writes, "Most political analysts believe that had the LDS Church not taken such an aggressive position against the ERA, it would have been easily ratified by the required thirty-eight states, and would now be part of the U.S. Constitution."

Mormon opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment isn't ancient history. In 2009, when a Nevada legislative committee held a hearing on a non-binding resolution in support of the ERA, the room was packed with anti-ERA Mormons -- primarily women, as in the 1972-82 campaign, acting on the decisions of the all-male church hierarchy.

The questions remain. Does Gov. Romney believe that the Constitution should guarantee equal rights for women and men? Would he as a former Mormon bishop be influenced by his church's continuing opposition to the ERA?

The Baltimore Sun on Oct. 22 called the prospect that the next president will make between one and four Supreme Court appointments "probably the most profound consequence of the 2012 election."

President Obama has shown with his appointments of Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan the standard of judicial competence and inclusiveness he would continue to uphold.

Judge Robert Bork, an unsuccessful Supreme Court nominee in 1987, was a mentor to Justice Scalia and similarly believes that the Constitution does not prohibit sex discrimination. He is Gov. Romney's chief legal advisor.

What better argument could there possibly be for the absolute necessity of putting the Equal Rights Amendment into the Constitution?

 
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