Georgians question necessity of ERA to right inequities

Like many states in the country, Georgia does not have a state ERA. And like every state in the country, there is no federal ERA to use when dealing with laws that some may deem discriminatory.

Feminists say states such as Georgia illustrate why women need the authority of federal and state governments as a tool to right inequities.

"We have been working diligently to eradicate numerous laws that discriminate against women, but we have been unable to," says Linda Hallenborg, state chairwoman of the Georgia Women's Political Caucus, in a telephone interview. For example, Georgia has a head-and-master law giving a man the legal right to be the head of the family. His wife's legal existence is merged in his.

"We have been trying to unmerge the husband and wife into two separate legal entities," she says. "But because of opposition, we have not been able to get it out of committee in a form we could support."

Opponents argue that a federal or state ERA would set in concrete laws that should have some flexibility, and they would rather work with specific state and local laws.

"We don't want to be run by a power from out of the state," says Sue Ella Deadwyler, an ERA opponent from Stone Mountain, Ga. "But even in the state we want the government next to the people at the local level."

Mrs. Deadwyler supports the same head-and-master law that Ms. Hallenborg decries.

"It does just the opposite of what its opponents claim," she says, maintaining that loss of the law would legally deliver men from family responsibility. "It gives women protection that was not in the law before."

Kim E. Greene, a staff attorney for the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, counters that such laws have little effect in holding a husband responsible in a marriage.

"The opposition has never been able to find a case in an ongoing marriage where the court has ordered the father to support his children," Ms. Greene says. "Courts say it is a family matter."

A new constitution was written in Georgia, and the initial recommendation included an equal-protection clause for classifications such as race, sex, and religion. At one point an overview committee made a different recommendation: take the clause out.

Mrs. Deadwyler approved the committee recommendation.

"The legislators want a new constitution, and it would be stopped cold if an ERA was part of it," she says, claiming many state laws already deal with discrimination. "The ERA is an attempt to remove all differences between men and women. That's unnatural and unreasonable, and I am against it."

Ms. Hallenborg was outraged. She saw the move as a classic example of what could happen if a federal ERA is not passed.

"It goes against what the majority of anti-ERA legislators have been telling us -- that we could take care of discrimination at the state level," she says. "It proves they don't want to, and it's a major slap in the face to women."

The legislature has since approved the constitution, which includes a general equal protection clause, but without any specific classifications such as sex or race. Georgians will vote on it in 1982.

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