Starr: If Utah Was Truly Pro-Family, It Would Ratify the ERA


Protesters march up State Street towards the Capitol Building during the Women’s March on the Capitol on January 23, 2017. (Photo by Adam Fondren | Daily Utah Chronicle.

By Kennedie Starr, Opinion Writer

As a state where far too many women endure serious challenges, including a large wage gap and little professional respect, it is critical that Utah ratifies the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 2020. While the state’s culture is deeply attached to restrictive gender roles — the set of expectations of how to appear and behave based on one’s assigned sex at birth — Utah has also led the way with women’s suffrage. As one of the earliest states to allow women to vote and to elect a woman as a state senator, Utah should be the state that advances the ERA to the United States Constitution.

The ERA reads, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The ERA may seem like only a simple sentence, but its ratification would have an immeasurable impact on women across the nation. This amendment was first proposed in Congress in 1923, only three years after the 19th Amendment, which maintains the right to vote for all sexes, was ratified. After an unsuccessful early run at ratification, it was reintroduced in the 1970s, where it passed Congress with bipartisan support, leaving its fate to the state legislatures.

At least 38 states must ratify the ERA in order for it to become law, and for too long we have been stuck trying to get there. To this day, my grandmother still speaks of her fight for the amendment’s passage when she was young. Witnessing her activism for the ERA reach across generations and different waves of feminism is inspiring, but also a point of frustration in my mind. We are fighting the same the fight, attending close to the same rallies and passionately calling representatives with the consistent, decades-old message. You almost have to laugh about fighting the same fight as your grandmother to keep from shaking your head with disappointment at your home state doing little to make ratification a reality after all this time.

Protesters march up State Street towards the Capitol Building during the Women’s March on the Capitol on January 23, 2017. (Photo by Adam Fondren | Daily Utah Chronicle.

Anti-ERA activists argue that the amendment would have “federal overreach” into states’ rights and would destroy the purportedly superior traditional roles of men and women. They also claim an amendment like the ERA is unnecessary because equal rights are already enshrined in the country’s foundational documents. Even if this were true, what would be the harm in reaffirming the value of equal rights under the law? Reaffirmation efforts are not invalidated if these are the strongest justifications from ERA opponents. Are we so threatened by the historic fight led by suffragettes in the 1920s, continued by countless others in the ’60s and ’70s and inherited by activists today?

Over half of women in Utah “believe that they have a lower status than men,” and we should do all we can to counteract that belief and decrease the conditions that create it. The pay gap, gender-based violence and other forms of gender discrimination would be far easier to address following the ratification of the ERA, and the amendment’s inclusion in the U.S. Constitution would be a symbolic moment for this country, especially at a time when the nation’s highest office is held by a president who boasted outright about sexually assaulting women. Changing a culture of disrespect and violence against women requires focused activism, better legal protection and a strong symbol of equality – all provided by the ERA.

In the Beehive State, there are multiple organizations working against the ERA. The Utah Eagle Form fears that the ERA will result in women being drafted and serving on the front-line, lead to an increase in unisex bathrooms and “mandate taxpayer funding of elective Medicaid abortions.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains its opposition to the ERA, which is unfortunate considering its values are supposedly centered on the well-being of the family. The Deseret News recently published an editorial titled “In our opinion: Why Utah should not pass the current version of the Equal Rights Amendment.” Yet despite this organized, high-profile opposition, nearly three-fourths of Utahns support ratifying the ERA. Even active Latter-day Saints support ratification, despite their church’s hard negative stance. Clearly, the people are for the ERA, and the state legislature should respond accordingly.

Utah already has codified equal rights in its state constitution. The state’s guarantee of equal political, civil and religious rights has existed since 1895. If we have already made that leap in the past, it should be easy to commit to the ratification of the ERA during the upcoming state legislative session. If Utah truly is a “pro-family” state, we must pass and praise an amendment that could help actualize parity for women. If we are not ready to cross the T and dot the I with the ERA, then it will be because, deep down, many leaders of this state do not value the benefits of ensuring equal rights under the law.


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