Why We Need the ERA – Diana Egozcue’s Testimony (delivered Feb. 7, 2012)

Virginia NOW President, Diana Egozcue, delivered this testimony about the Equal Rights Amendment to the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012.

“Good afternoon,

I am Diana Egozcue, Virginia NOW President, Fredericksburg resident and a constituent of Senator Vogel.  I am here to testify for the Equal Rights Amendment.

The ERA simply states:  “Equality of Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”  At this time, the only guaranteed right women have in the Constitution is the right to vote under the 19th Amendment.  There are laws and acts which give us some rights, but these can be repealed or amended at any time.  The ERA acts as a blanket insurance policy or a firewall for all laws passed for women such as the Lily Ledbetter fair pay act and Titles 7 and 9 in the Civil Rights Act.  Title 9 once disappeared for four years due to a Supreme Court decision, and Congress had to pass it again.

I hear the worn out old arguments all the time that it is dead, it will bring same sex bathrooms, the draft for women, and abortion on demand.  We already have unisex bathrooms, women can be drafted at any time if Congress wishes to do it, and it will not bring abortion on demand.  Twenty-two states have ERA amendments or clauses in their Constitutions including Virginia, and it has never brought abortion in these states.  In three cases brought in the states, the judges have thrown out the cases because men can’t have abortions.

As for being dead, the Congressional Research Service in reports to Congress said:  “The ERA is still legally held timely or contemporaneous, viable, fair and just.”  The Virginia Attorney General, in 1995, in a letter answering Delegate Marshall’s query said the ERA is not dead.  The Supreme Court in Coleman vs Miller said regardless of a time limit, Article V of the Constitution said states still have the power to ratify the ERA.  It is up to the states to give an up or down vote, but not to determine its viability.  The time limit was in the proposing clause and not in the body of the amendment.  There have been seven amendments accepted back by Congress after a time limit has passed including habeas corpus.  The Madison Amendment, the 27th Amendment, was accepted back after 203 years.  It counted 9 of the 13 original state votes in its 38 total needed for passage.  This amendment nullified the time limit argument.

Why do we need the ERA?

  1. As I said before, the only guaranteed right we have in the Constitution is the right to vote.  Some say the 14th Amendment covers women, but if you study the history of the debate, it was never intended to cover women.  The Supreme Court in 1972 said in a decision that the 14th did cover women, but this has often been ineffective to support women’s constitutional authority.  Justice Scalia said in a law review last year that it does not cover women or give equal rights because there is no ERA.  Only the ERA will give the courts strict scrutiny to decide a case, and that’s why they could not find for Lily Ledbetter.  This is an umbrella insurance policy for women or a firewall.
  2.  Forty-seven percent of women support their families.  With the ERA, we will be guaranteed equal pay for the same work.  We now make 77 cents in Virginia for every dollar a man makes in the same job with the same experience.  What this means is that in old age, women receive less Social Security if they never married or (in the case of their ex-husband’s Social Security) if they have been divorced less than a certain number of years.
  3. If we make pay equal, we will increase the tax bases locally, in state coffers, and federally.  Women will have more to spend to grow the economy; more women will not need welfare, Medicaid and food stamps; and there will be a positive impact on infrastructure and other projects.  None of this includes the intangibles such as self-esteem, role models for children and other women, and better housing, which affects children and their learning environments.

Article I, Section 11 of the Virginia Constitution states in the last three lines:  “…that the right to be free from any government discrimination upon the basis of religious conviction, race, color, sex, or national origin shall not be abridged….”  I have to ask the question, if this was written in the 1950’s before the passage out of Congress of the ERA in 1972, why hasn’t Virginia extended the rights guaranteed in the Virginia Constitution to the women of the United States?

We have women fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They are fighting for a Constitution that affords them only the right to vote.  Last week, an all-female fighter squadron flew the first all-female mission from the US Carl Vinson.  The military knows the value of women.  Think of your mothers, wives, daughters, and granddaughters.  What if your daughter or granddaughter marries a man who leaves her with children to support?  Guarantee them the right to make an equal wage to support their families.

Opponents of the ERA say, we have bogus arguments, but give no reasons why they oppose the amendment.  Their specious arguments from the past are worn out.  We have same sex bathrooms, women can be drafted at any time, they serve in combat, and nowhere has abortion on demand been passed into law in the twenty-two states that have ERA amendments or clauses.  Time has marched on and attitudes have changed, but women are still waiting to be granted full citizenship under the US Constitution.  This is about the sex you are, not the sex you do.  A recent survey showed that over 86 percent of Americans agreed we need the ERA.  This is a civil rights issue.  This is a fairness issue. After waiting forty years, I would like to be a full citizen with guaranteed rights in the Constitution.  Thirty-five states have passed this, why not Virginia?

This is a matter of RESPECT.  Respect us enough to give us our rights and make us full citizens, not a 1/4, not a 1/2, but full citizens with the rights men enjoy.  I’ve heard male legislators say that they are protecting us.  No you’re not, not without the power of the law to guarantee our rights.  Again, respect us: that is all we are asking.”

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Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012

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Go Diana!  She has since spoken on the floor many times on the importance of the ERA’s ratification.

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