Illinois OKs ERA

Equal Rights Amendment finally clears General Assembly, but to what end?

(Twitter/The Hill)

(Twitter/The Hill)

By Mark Guarino

Illinois became the 37th state to pass the Equal Right Amendment Wednesday, reversing the state’s rejection of the legislation nearly 38 years ago.

The House voted 72-45 to ratify the amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal rights for all citizens regardless of sex. One more state is needed to ratify the amendment for it to be adopted, although it is unclear what congressional action will result, as the last deadline expired in 1982. The state Senate passed it last month.

The U.S. Congress passed the ERA in October 1972 with bipartisan support, but two years later only 35 of the 38 states necessary for adoption had approved it in their legislatures. In the upper Midwest, the amendment originally had the support of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana, but not Illinois. The deadline to approve was extended from March 1979 to June 1982, but four states rescinded their original approval.

Injected into the two-hour House debate Wednesday were concerns the amendment would lead to greater abortion access and roll back equal-rights protections for minorities, as well as impact girls' and boys' sports teams. State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Republican from Wheaton, argued that women already are federally protected in the workplace through Title VII of the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Act. She characterized the amendment as a “defunct law” that “won’t mean anything” unless men in leadership positions were held personally accountable for their actions.

“Women will not be protected until men decide to protect them and decide to stop the sexual harassment, decide to stop the domestic abuse, decide to stop the sex trafficking, decide to stop in the workplaces, when they are in charge, that they are going to protect the women under their charge,” she said.

State Rep. Lou Lang, of Skokie, a lead sponsor, said all those concerns will do “nothing to hurt the fabric of America because all it says is give women the same rights mean have.

“If you’re a representative against that," he added, "I don’t know why you’re here defending and protecting the people that you represent."

State Rep. Carol Ammons, a Democrat from Urbana, said a “yes” vote was needed because it provided “a moral check” on “the issue of equity and justice.”

According to Ammons, “This bill reminds us of the unfinished business of the constitution of this great country."

Pushing the vote over the top was House GOP leader Jim Durkin, who was previously an outspoken opponent of the resolution. He was one of nine other Republicans who voted for the resolution. Five Democrats voted against it.

Support came from some unlikely places, including Mick Jagger, lead singer of the Rolling Stones.

The ratification was applauded outside Springfield. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement saying that Illinois stands “united for equality and justice for all.”

“Enshrining equal rights for women in our nation’s Constitution is an important and long-overdue step on the journey to a more perfect union,” he said.

Likewise, Women’s March Chicago released a statement saying the recent ERA movement is the result of nearly two years of activism and coalition building following the election of President Donald Trump. The group said that nationwide street marches, and formation of movements like #MeToo, suggest “it is but one battle among many on the road to impartial rights. … It is they who have inspired so many others to take up a cause that has been long overdue, and they are the ones who will lead us to justice and equality for all under the law.”

Backers are hoping that a 38th state voting in favor would prompt Congress to revisit the issue and clear way for adoption.

Ted Cox