by PAMELA HULSE ANDREWS Cascade CBN Editor
It almost seems redundant to consider an equal rights measure that would guarantee women the same rights as men. After all women are already expected to receive the exact same consideration in hiring practices (although the gender pay gap is still 77 percent), the same opportunity for education (some would say scholarships for women have tipped the scale over men) and unisex bathrooms, dorms and clothing are now the norm.
However it does seem appropriate that women be explicitly equal in every constitution and thanks to Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo, president of VoteERA.org and her two co-sponsors, Eugene attorney Erin Gould and Nike Global Marketing Director Kerry Godfrey Scroggins, we will have an opportunity to vote for an Oregon Equal Rights for Women initiative on the November 4, 2014 ballot as an initiated constitutional amendment.
The measure has made it to the ballot via the signature gathering method as three attempts to pass the amendment or refer it to voters during the 2013 legislative session went nowhere. Through the initiative method 118,388 valid signatures were submitted, about 2,000 more than what is needed to qualify a constitutional initiative.
The measure, if approved, will guarantee that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which opposed earlier versions of the amendment, is suggesting that the way it’s written now, ‘shouldn’t do any harm.’ One of the ACLU’s original concerns was that by passing a measure that specifically elevates discrimination based on sex as opposed to our current provision which protects everyone regardless of what type of discrimination, that it might somehow change the current interpretation that has been applied by Oregon courts.
Littrell DiLorenzo says that the ban on sex discrimination in Oregon is based on case law and she isn’t convinced that the Oregon Constitution provides enough protection against sex discrimination. The same Constitution once prohibited women from voting or owning property, she has said.
The Oregon initiative is also known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The campaign to pass a state amendment coincides with a revived national campaign to pass a federal Equal Rights Amendment. That amendment, approved by Congress in 1972, never went into effect because it fell three states short of the minimum 38 states that needed to ratify it. Oregonians approved the federal ERA in 1973.
The federal ERA, affirming the equal application of the Constitution to all persons regardless of their sex, was written in 1923 by Alice Paul, suffragist leader and founder of the National Woman’s Party. After women’s right to vote was guaranteed by the 19th Amendment in 1920, she proposed the ERA as the next step in confirming “equal justice under law” for all citizens.
The ERA was introduced into every Congress between 1923 and 1972, when it was passed and sent to the states for ratification. The original seven-year time limit in the ERA’s proposing clause was extended by Congress to June 30, 1982, but at that deadline, the ERA had been ratified by 35 states, three states short of the 38 required to put it into the Constitution.
The ERA has been introduced into every Congress since 1982. Beginning in 1994 with introduction of the first three-state strategy bill in Congress, ERA advocates have been pursuing two different types of ERA legislation that have been introduced in the 2013-14 session of Congress:
• Traditional legislation to ratify the ERA by the Constitution’s Article V ratification process, and
• Three-state strategy legislation to remove the time limit on the ERA’s ratification process and declare it complete when three-fourths (38) of the states ratify, thereby retaining the existing 35 state ratifications as viable.
Currently 15 states have not yet ratified the federal ERA: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia. It still sits in Congress with no progress made.
The Oregon Equal Rights Amendment may not get a lot of attention in the November campaigns due to marijuana legalization, driver cards, open primary measure and GMO labeling (which would require labeling on both packaged products and on bulk and fresh agricultural products). Let’s hope those distractions don’t deter voters from passing an Oregon ERA that is long overdue.
Recent polls indicate that at least three out of four Oregonians would support the ERA initiative. And why not? What is the fear factor that the naysayers are worried about? If men once wanted women to take a back seat…a back seat at anything, that fantasy has passed.
An ERA is needed to provide women the highest level of equal protection possible, so they’re not open to future Supreme Court judges reinterpreting case law or to the winds of political change.
The Oregon Equal Rights Amendment
If approved, the initiative will amend Article I of the Oregon Constitution by adding a new section to it. The section would read as follows:
SECTION 46. (1) Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.
(2) The Legislative Assembly shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this section.
(3) Nothing in this section shall diminish a right otherwise available to persons under section 20 of this Article or any other provision of this Constitution.