Saturday, 13 May 2017 01:38

Nevada OKs the ERA: 'This bill is about equality. Period'

Written by Seth A. Richardson, Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal
Nevada OKs the ERA: 'This bill is about equality. Period' Las Vegas Review Journal

Forty-five years to the day after Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, Nevada became the first state in 40 years to approve the provision that would enshrine women’s rights in the U.S. Constitution.

It only took a simple voice vote with little debate for the Senate to concur with the Assembly and pass the Equal Rights Amendment — or the ERA — making Nevada the first state since 1977 to approve the resolution.

The votes throughout the process were mostly along party lines, with Democrats in favor. State Sen. Heidi Gansert and Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, both of Reno, were the only Republican lawmakers to vote in favor, though Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval also said he favored its passage.

State Sen. Pat Spearman, D-Las Vegas, carried the legislation and said some of the arguments around the amendment were misdirection.

“This bill is about equality. Period,” she said.

Congress passed the ERA in 1972 with a 1979 deadline, but granted an extension until 1982. Thirty-five states swiftly passed the amendment, but conservative activists, largely led by Phyllis Schlafly, instituted a campaign to defeat the amendment, arguing it stripped women of several rights such as child custody and exemption from selective service. Pro-life activists have also argued it would lead to unfettered abortion.


A bloc of mostly Southern and some Western states declined to ratify it, stalling the amendment at three states short of the requisite 38 needed by the 1982 deadline for ratification.

Since then, activists have pushed for more states to approve the ERA. National Democrats called for its approval in the party platform.

Nevadans voted down the ERA in a 1978 ballot question by a 2-to-1 vote. State Sen. Then-state Sen. Sue Wagner, a Republican from Reno who would go on to become Nevada’s first woman lieutenant governor, tried to revive the amendment in 1981, but to no avail.

Proponents of the ERA’s passage say if two more states follow Nevada's lead and choose to approve it, the amendment still has a decent chance at ratification, so long as Congress extends the deadline. They point to the 27th Amendment, regarding compensation for senators and representatives, which took more than 200 years to be fully adopted.

Marlene Lockard, a lobbyist with the Nevada Women's Lobby, said she hoped Nevada passing the amendment would lead to a domino effect of other states taking up the issue, with the possibility of garnering the final two to reach 38. In a post-vote press conference, Spearman said Virginia and Illinois seemed like the most viable options, but felt others like Arizona and Florida should follow suit.

The National Organization of Women released a statement Monday after the Assembly passed the amendment saying they’re now focused on a “two-state strategy” for ratification.

“The progress we have made—and must continue to make—towards women’s equality can be lost at any time because those advances depend on legislation that can be (and has been) weakened or repealed by Congress,” said Terry O’Neill, president of NOW. “Given the current political climate, with Republicans in the White House and Congress nakedly promoting a white supremacist and patriarchal agenda, this is more of a concern than ever.”

Lockard also felt the ERA's passage was a response to some of the national rhetoric surrounding women's issues, pointing to a newfound political involvement of women nationwide. The day after the inauguration of President Trump — who received widespread criticism for his remarks on women — more than 3 million people nationwide joined the Women's March on Washington and related events.

"This is a message," Lockard said. "You’ve awoken a sleeping tiger and we’re back at it."

Wagner said she was thrilled at the ERA's passage, but there was some melancholy. Two senators she served with whom have since died, Jean Ford and Mary Gojack, worked tirelessly to pass the amendment, only to see it fail.

"Now, I’m the only one alive, I think, who was a woman who voted for these things in the '70s and '80s, and that’s very sad," she said. "I hope that somehow they know this happened."

Link to original article from USA Today

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