OPINION EXCHANGE | Betty Folliard: Still no Equal Rights Amendment, huh?

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Another Women’s (in)Equality Day will come and go on Saturday, Aug. 26, with little fanfare. So, there you are.

And where are you?

In Minnesota, where women make on average 81 cents to a man’s dollar, with much, much larger inequities for Black, Indigenous, Latina women and women of color; where the rate of U.S. seniors who live in poverty is two-thirds higher in women than men; where two-thirds of Americans working low-wage jobs are women; where moms make on average 62 cents to a dad’s dollar; where two-thirds of tipped workers are women; where less than 1% of rapes lead to felony convictions; where we are still fighting the battle for voting rights for all; where 1 in 4 women have been raped during their lifetimes; where femicide and uxoricide are the norm in America; where women still get fired for being pregnant; where child care can cost more than college; where some bosses deny workers birth-control coverage; where we are one of only five industrialized countries in the world that have no paid maternity leave, and where women can fight and die for their country and we still don’t have equal rights.

To change this equation at the national level, ERA allies have introduced legislation finalizing the federal ERA now that all requirements set out in the U.S. Constitution have been met. An ERA Caucus has formed in Congress. Generation Ratify, a coalition of 13,000 young people, is taking to the streets to make equality a reality. And ERA champions are helping organize the 60th March on Washington for this Saturday on Women’s (in)Equality Day.

Here in Minnesota, an ERA has been offered every year since 1983, the year the federal ERA went dormant for a time due to an arbitrary time limit. This year, building on the success of Nevada where they passed a state ERA in 2022, ERA Minnesota activists and allies introduced the intergenerational, inclusive, intersectional ERA bill SF 37, authored by Sen. Mary Kunesh and Rep. Kaohly Her. It reads:

“Equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied by this state or any of its cities, counties, or other political subdivisions on account of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry, or national origin.” (Note: Every one of the categories listed are a majority women.)

This modern ERA has no qualifiers. No carve-outs. All means all. This measure explicitly constitutionalizes laws found in our Human Rights Act; it embeds inalienable rights into the strongest legal document in our state, out of reach of any future lawmakers bent on restricting rights of historically excluded and minoritized communities.

The Minnesota Constitution was written in 1857, the same year as the Dred Scott decision. Only two parts of Article I, aka the Bill of Rights, detail Minnesotans’ rights: Section 2 (“Rights and privileges. No member of this state shall be disfranchised or deprived of any of the rights or privileges secured to any citizen thereof, unless by the law of the land or the judgment of his peers)”, and Section 8 (“Redress of injuries or wrongs. Every person is entitled to a certain remedy in the laws for all injuries or wrongs which he may receive to his person, property, or character, and to obtain justice freely and without purchase, completely and without denial, promptly and without delay, conformable to the laws.”)

Archaic gendered language aside, both sections possess a caveat: Ultimately, it’s lawmakers and courts who hold sway over our rights. And we’ve seen how well that’s worked for us.

One mustn’t be shortsighted about recognizing that political winds change. The makeup of the Legislature is a pendulum: This year it swayed to the progressive side, but that’s not where it will stay. And trifectas — meaning a party controls both chambers of the Legislature and holds the governor’s office — come along only every decade or so.

For those who fear pushback if we pass the ERA ballot initiative, news flash: Pushback is here without an ERA. Attacks on women’s rights, reproductive rights and trans rights are a full-bore five-alarm fire. Time to play offense.

Why delay equality? Let’s embed equality under the law into our Constitution now to reflect Minnesota values and leave a legacy for future generations.

Tell legislators wait-time is over: Pass the ERA in 2024.

Betty Folliard is the founder of ERA Minnesota.

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