THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT THE CASE AGAINST
Boston — The Opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment often support the concept of equal rights, but they feel the proposed constitutional amendment will be a hindrance rather than a help.
Beverly Campbell of McLean, Va., is a motheR, wife and career woman. She has been actively educating the public about the ERA, talking to newspapers, speaking to groups, and appearing on television.
"As a philosophical statement, the language of the ERA is nice," Mrs. Campbell says. "There are not many people who object to the idea. But we have to look at the ERA as it will be interpreted."
Rosemary Thompson of Morton, Ill., who is the Illinois director of the anti-ERA group Eagle Forum, is married and has two sons. She is a "full-time professional volunteer" and a free-lance writer. She also worries about the broadness and simplicity of the ERA.
"Our biggest objection to the Equal Rights Amendment is that we would find ourselves with more federal regulations on our personal and domestic life," Mrs. Thompson says.
Mrs. Campbell adds: "It's so harsh and arbitrary. There can be no exceptions under the ERA. And there are times when exceptions are needed."
Both women point to the fact that some lawmakers have proposed exempting women from military service or combat duty and recognizing physical and functional differences between men and women. But these exemptions have been defeated.
"There is no question that the amendment is meant to deal with those issues," Mrs. Campbell says. She feels the 14th Amendment to the Constitution is already all that women need.
"It gives women equal protection except where the government can show reasonable cause not to," she insists.
Mrs. Campbell doesn't buy the argument that current equal-opportunity laws could lose their punch without the backing of the ERA. Again she points to the 14th Amendment: "The teeth can't be taken out of such laws, short of repealing the law, unless it can be shown that there is a compelling reason for a distinction."
Mrs. Campbell is also wary of how the ERA will affect the family, which is already in a state of flux.
"You don't abandon someone when they are in trouble. You give them more support," she says. "When I look at the interpretation of the law in states wtih equal-rights amendments, I don't think it will help the family."
Stop ERA, a committee founded by the Equal Rights Amendment's most vocal opponent, Phyllis Schlafly, documents cases that have "hurt" family rights. In the 1977 Pennsylvania case of the Albert Einstein Medical Center v. Nathans, the court threw out a law giving creditors the right to sue a husband for payment of his wife's "necessaries." The court said the law was "repugnant" to the state's equal-rights amendment and that it must either be repealed or changed to give creditors the right the sue wives as well.
"Our concern is that families will suffer," says Mrs. Campbell. "Presently if a woman wants to work and support her family, she can do it. We don't need a new law for that."
But for the woman who chooses to remain in the home, the ERA will just make it harder, she says.
"If women bear children, there should be a presumption of support, so women who want to can safely leave their work career."
She also objects to the second section of the ERA, which says that Congress shall have the authority to pass laws to enforce the amendment. Any laws that affect men and women, whether dealing with education, inheritance, penal laws, or social services, would be subject to the scrutiny of the federal government, she says.
"They would be adjudicated by justices who only read and interpret the law and who can't listen to the majority of the people," Mrs. Campbell contends. "At the state level, people can vote for a change of lawmakers, or have a referendum election. But you can't change anything at the federal level."
Mrs. Thompson says: "The real concern is that the federal government would come and tell states that all of the laws must comply with what they [in the federal government] think. Illinois has a fine equal-protection law that allows equal opportunity, but also a reasonable distinction between men and women."
Mrs. Campbell cites a survey that found more than 70 percent of the people who favor the ERA think that it means equal pay for equal work.
"It is presently against the law notm to give equal pay for equal work," she says. "The laws already exist. The ERA will not make any new laws, but it will be the constitutional amendment under which the laws will be written." She proposes that, instead of an ERA, there should be a drive to let people know that equal-opportunity laws exist now.
Mrs. Campbell says that in a survey of states, she has seen only five examples of laws that do need redress, and they can be corrected at the state level.
"There have been inequities," she concedes. "But I don't think the ERA will correct them better than the 14th Amendment."
Stop ERA's Mrs. Thompson thinks the issue of women not getting enough money for their work is sometimes overrated.
"If I lay out 10 to 12 years to have a family, I can't expect to have the same salary as someone who has been working all that time," she says. "That's not discrimination, but a choice women make. You can never catch up, even with an education."
Both Mrs. Campbell and Mrs. Thompson call "illegal" the extension of the Equal Rights Amendment approved by Congress in 1978 when it was obvious that the amendment would not be ratified by three-fourths of the states by the original March 1979 deadline.
"A constitutional amendment is supposed to go out with a two-thirds majority, and this [extension] only won a simple majority," says Mrs. Campbell. "That is changing the way to amend the Constitution."
Mrs. Campbell, who is a member of the Mormon Church, which recently excommunicated an outspoken ERA supporter. Sonia Johnson, says of the excommunication, "Of course I wish it hadn't occurred." But she sees some good results from the incident."At first I didn't think it would help, but there has been so much more dialogue since then. Now people are much better informed about the ERA."
"The longer the ERA goes on, the fewer people will support it," Mrs. Campbell says. Mrs. Thompson concurs.
"Most women I know thought that the ERA was good at one time, but they changed their position by studying it." she says. "ERA supporters have had seven years to get it passed and it hasn't."
Mrs. Thompson says the military draft issue will aid in stopping ratification of the amendment. Although Congress turned down a request by President Carter to include women in a revived draft registration, Mrs. Thompson says it proves conclusively what ERA opponents have said all along. "ERA supporters want to draft women and put it them in combat duty. Men and women are not absolutely equal physiologically."
She is also suspicious of some backers of the amendment. "They are signers of the humanistic manifesto, which says that there is no God and no set morals."
She also says the issue of abortion is tied up in the question.
"The proponents of abortion say it has nothing to do with the ERA." Mrs. Thompson says. "There must be some tie-in or they wouldn't be calling for it."
Rex Lee, dean of the Brigham Young University Law School in Provo, Utah, is a law expert who is opposed to the ERA.
"In the early 1970s, the proponents of the ERA argued, and rightly so, that the 14th Amendment was not doing the job in eradicating gender discrimination," Mr. Lee says. But there has been a remarkable change in the use of the 14th Amendment since then, he says.
"We have gone from one end of the constitutional spectrum to a completely different one where sex is almost a suspect class," he says.
"The most we could get out of the ERA is just a slight turning up of the wattage on the search for discrimination," he asserts, adding that the risk is that the ERA would make unconstitutional any legislation allowing distinctions between men and women.
"That brings in the parade of horribles," he says, listing women in combat, unisex toilets, destruction of laws protecting women at home, and those giving women preferential child support as areas that the ERA could possibly affect. Mr Lee is aware that other lawyers argue that the amendment would not be interpreted to allow loss of privacy or homosexual marriages, but he believes they are missing the point.
"No one can say how the ERA will be interpreted," he says. "The real question is, since there is a risk of these things happening, is there enough of a need for a new light to search out discriminatory practices? My answer is a resounding 'no.'
"In 1970, we needed a grand leap, but we are no longer at that point. We don't need a grand leap, but fine tuning. Very simply, the Constitution is not a fine-tuning instrument, but a piece of concrete."
The case in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment was presented in yesterday's issue of the Monitor. The Fourteenth Amendment (ratified in 1868)
All persons born on naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; or deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.m The proposed Equal Rights Amendment
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.m
The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this Article.m
This Amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.m