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On Women's Equality Day, Let's Recommit to Passing the ERA
August 26, 2013
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Here is the 5-minute speech I gave at Albuquerque's Women's Equality Day Celebration on "Why We Need The Equal Rights Amendment."

Sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, poets and politicians, students and workers, kiddies and grannies, LGBTQIA+ cousins, humanists, humanitarians and humans...

The Equal Rights Amendment is for all of us! Our constitution is not complete without it, any more than it could be complete without the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, or the Fourteenth known as the Civil Rights Amendment, or the Fifteenth that granted the vote to all men regardless of race or color, or the Nineteenth, which we celebrate today, extending that right to vote to women.

Why did we need all those amendments? Because the constitution as written applied only to a select few. It has taken centuries to amend the constitution to guarantee the rights of all people in this country, and we are not done yet. Nor will we be done until the ERA is ratified, and the law of the land specifically forbids discrimination on the basis of sex.

Until that day, the women of this country are living in a loophole. People may suppose that the Bill of Rights applies to us, but we don't have that in writing - in fact, written guarantees have been denied us at every turn. Wouldn't it have been convenient to give the vote to women back in 1870 when the Fifteenth Amendment was passed? But women's suffrage was intentionally excluded from that amendment, which reads: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged ... on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude."

How easy would it have been to add "or gender" "or sex" and get everyone onto the voting rolls in a single stroke? But no - women were denied. And let's be clear: Not including women's suffrage in the Fifteenth Amendment diluted at the outset the power and the advancement that "Black suffrage," as it was called, promised for people of color. Here we enfranchised a large new group of citizens and then immediately cut their representation in half by excluding the women! It would take another 50 years before women of any color joined their male counterparts at the voting booth.

And although we have the vote today thanks to our determined predecessors, the Nineteenth Amendment, limited to women's voting rights, is still the only language that affirms equality of the sexes under the Constitution - a document that nowhere contains the words "her" or "she" or "woman."

Equality of other rights may be implied, but will not bear the weight of law without the ERA. And those other rights - such as the rights to privacy and religious freedom - repeatedly come under attack in piecemeal fashion from one state to the next and from one administration to the next. As of today, the rights of 51% of the U.S. population are subject to local political whim. Is that equality?

In a world in which we did not need the ERA - we would have the ERA already! In a world in which we did not have gender discrimination and hugely lopsided majorities of men in the halls of power, someone with a sharp legal mind (say an Antonin Scalia) would assert that there is no specific protection against sex or gender discrimination in the Constitution (which he did), and there would be an immediate, unanimous movement to write, pass and ratify an amendment to fix that omission. Instead, look where we are: 90 years after the ERA was proposed, people are still fighting it.

Now, I know there are many social justice advocates here today. Please consider that whatever your cause, women are half of your effort, half of your voice, half of your authority, and half of the energy that has helped you get this far. Won't you lend your voice to the overarching, game-changing effort to enshrine women's equality under the Constitution? We cannot stop now, so close, just one amendment away, from closing the circle of civil rights guarantees that will finally insure full equality under the law for every American.

Until we have engaged and empowered everyone as equal partners in this grand experiment we call democracy, we cannot realize the greatness that our Founders, bless their patriarchal hearts, almost envisioned.

In closing, it would be traditional for me to point to the women who fought so valiantly for equal rights and say: "Do it for them, we owe it to them to realize their dream and finally pass the ERA." But we know what they would say to that: "Don't do it for us - do it for yourselves! We fought the good fight for You!"

And so they did. Thank you for coming out to celebrate their legacy today, and may we all recommit to finishing the task they started. Let's do it together, let's do it for each other, let's do it without delay.


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Copyright © 2013 Zelda Gatuskin

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