ERA Summit Report

by Guest Writer Linda Joplin

Implementing the resolution adopted at the 1994 National NOW Conference in San Antonio, Texas, a NOW ERA Strategy Summit was held on Jan. 27 and 28 for the purpose of developing recommended language for consideration at the 1995 National NOW Conference in Columbus, Ohio.

On Friday evening, NOW President Patricia Ireland set the stage when she spoke about "Why We Need an ERA." She began by saying that the goal is not for women to be treated equally to men, but to be equal to men.

What needs to take place is a paradigm shift. Under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, women and men have to be treated equally only if they are "similarly situated" and if the government doesn't have a "good" reason for treating them differently. Unfortunately the reason is not subject to "strict scrutiny" by the court. The reality is that women and men are different, and courts have gone out of their way to find a difference in their situations that is then used to justify discrimination. If the equality standard is the male standard, women lose. Instead of asking whether women are being treated equally to men, Ireland argued, we must craft an amendment that forces courts to ask whether women are disadvantaged relative to men. This approach would reach, for example, discrimination based on pregnancy or child care responsibilities.

Brief ERA History
Former NOW President Ellie Smeal, currently president of the Fund for a Feminist Majority, spoke candidly about the history of the ERA. A few of the items she mentioned were:

Past Work on a New ERA
At the ERA plenary session held during the 1994 National NOW Conference, participants argued for an expanded concept of equality to be part of any new Equal Rights Amendment.

Some said discrimination based on sexual orientation is "sex discrimination," and should be treated that way. Others asked: If a person is denied the opportunity to do something, such as getting married or adopting a child, based upon their gender (or the gender of the person they have a relationship with) isn't that "sex discrimination?"

Participants also argued that women cannot control our bodies or our destinies without freedom from coerced pregnancy or coerced abortion. Clearly, they said, the right to bodily integrity is required before women will fully enjoy the benefits of equal citizenship -- and therefore must be a part of any constitutional strategy.

The resolution finally adopted by NOW members from around the country at the 1994 conference sets forth the basic principle that any new ERA amendment must include specific language that guarantees an end to discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, reproductive decisions and reproductive status.

The ERA Summit Proposal
The major purpose of the ERA Summit was to draft proposed language that will be presented for consideration at the upcoming National NOW Conference in Columbus, Ohio. The more than 100 NOW board members, state presidents, and activists who attended the Summit worked all day and late into the night to reach consensus.

It is unlikely that the Republican-controlled Congress will pass any Equal Rights Amendment, even a weak version, given that they removed support for the ERA from their platform in 1980.

If the dream of women's equality is ever to become a reality, it is critical that we effectively utilize this time to organize support for an Equal Rights Amendment that will guarantee constitutional equality for all women.

NOW members are urged to attend the National NOW Conference, July 21-23, in Columbus, Ohio, to share in the development of the next campaign for the ERA.

ERA Summit Report

The following proposed language was adopted by the ERA Summit for presentation to the July 1995 NOW National Conference.

"Women and men shall have equal rights and privileges regardless of class, without discrimination based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, race, ethnicity, national origin or color in the United States and every place and entity subject to its jurisdiction. Women's equality includes the absolute right to make reproductive decisions including termination of pregnancy and to be free from pregnancy discrimination. This does not preclude any law, program or activity that would remedy the effects of prior discrimination."

ERA Summit Minority Report

There is support for the minority report to be reported to the floor at the conference. We wish the language to be concise, clear, simple, effective, focused and inclusive. Examples of such could be the Alice Paul language, or the 1982 language, or the following:

"Women and men shall have equality of rights, privileges and liberties throughout the U.S. and in every place and entity subject to its jurisdiction."

We insist that any form that is adopted include a full legislative history specifically including lesbian rights and protection of all categories as well as reproduction freedom.

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