Equal rights for women long overdue

Mary-Sherman Willis

I’m writing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on which we celebrate the cause of equal rights for all Americans and the end to discrimination on the basis of race.

Although we still have work to do in this country to ensure those rights, they have been sealed into the U.S. Constitution in the form of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Equality on the basis of religion and country of origin are similarly protected.

But gender still seems to be a stumbling block.

In America, 51 percent of the population, 47 percent of our workforce — women — lack such Constitutional protection. While there are statutory protections that were added after the first attempt in the 1970s to ratify an Equal Rights Amendment on the basis of sex, none carry the force of a Constitutional amendment.

As a result, women today are paid 77 cents on the dollar for the same job a man does. Being female can be considered a preexisting condition that denies women health insurance and job security. A woman can be fired or denied a job for getting pregnant or having children.

It’s time to embed this protection as a fundamental Constitutional right. Virginia can do it this year, as the 38th and last state to ratify the ERA, whereupon it can go to Capitol Hill to become the 27th Amendment. Nevada and Illinois ratified the amendment just last year. Virginia can make the difference!

In one of the first acts in the current General Assembly, the Virginia Senate voted “yes” to ratify by a margin of almost two to one.

Next, it’s the House of Delegates’ turn to decide. The bill SJ284 is in committee to determine whether it will go to a floor vote. Our delegate, Republican Mike Webert, is reportedly leaning toward a “no.” I take his stance personally, as a woman and the mother of a daughter making her way in America with one strike against her — that she is a woman.

And I’m not the only Rappahannock resident concerned about leveling the playing field by ratifying the ERA. Barbara Adolfi, Ray Boc, Miranda Hope, Steph Ridder, John Beardsley, Ross O’Donoghue, DeeDee Slewka, Dan and Kit Goldfarb, Janet Clark, Bruce and Joy Sloane, Ralph and Gwen Bates, Jane Livingston, Leonard Foglia, David Richards, Nol Putnam, and Leslie Cockburn add their names here in support of ratification.

This should be a bipartisan issue — wouldn’t you want your mother, sister and daughter to have equal protection under the bedrock law of the land?

Let’s urge Delegate Webert to do the right thing, the fair thing, and vote “yes” to ratifying the ERA at last. Remind him that he has a grandmother, a mother and a wife who also deserve equal rights!

You can reach him at DelMWebert@house.virginia.gov or (804) 698-1018.

The writer lives in Woodville.

Editor’s note: On Tuesday, as reported by the Capital News Service’s Georgia Geen, a House of Delegates subcommittee killed four bills to ratify the federal ERA on a 4-2 party-line vote. The decision to “pass by indefinitely” SJ 284, as well as HJ 577, HJ 579, and HJ 583 marks the end of efforts to pass legislation ratifying the ERA unless it is brought up in the full House Privileges and Elections Committee tomorrow (Friday). “[W]ith this type of attention that it’s getting, I think there’s an expectation that it will be brought to full committee on Friday,” said Del. Mark Sickles of Fairfax, one of two Democrats on the subcommittee.

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