BY voting 96 to 3 to elevate Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, the United States Senate sent a clear message: In the last decade of the 20th century, it is not controversial for a prospective Supreme Court justice to support an equal rights amendment to the US Constitution.
Judge Ginsburg avoided taking many strong positions during her Senate Judiciary Committee hearings. But when it came to an equal rights amendment to the Constitution, her support was unequivocal.
Replying to a question from Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania, Ginsburg said: "I remain an advocate of the equal rights amendment, I will tell you, for this reason: because I have a daughter and a grand-daughter, and I would like the legislature of this country and of all the states to stand up and say, 'We know what that history was in the 19th century, and we want to make a clarion call that women and men are equal before the law, just as every modern human rights document in the world does since 1970.' I'd like to see that statement made just that way in the United States Constitution."
Last year I directed a campaign to add an equal rights amendment (ERA) to Iowa's constitution. The amendment lost by four percentage points after a bitter campaign in which opponents, led by the Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafly and the Christian Coalition's Pat Robertson, claimed that the ERA would destroy the social fabric of society. Reverand Robertson warned that an ERA would lead women "to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."
IT must have surprised Iowans who were taken in by such distortions when their own Sen. Charles Grassley (R) - who officially was neutral in the 1992 campaign, but accepted money from Ms. Schlafly's anti-ERA political action committee and said nothing against the outrageous claims of the anti-ERA forces - joined his Judiciary Committee colleagues in unanimously recommending Ginsburg for the high court.
Her support for the ERA was not controversial because too many senators know the facts about the results of an ERA. For example, Senator Specter needed only to look at his own state of Pennsylvania, which has an ERA in its state constitution.
It has helped reduce women's car insurance payments, helped homemakers get fair divorce settlements, helped girls have more funds for athletics, and helped men have a fair chance to win custody battles.
Specter knows that an ERA hasn't meant gay marriages because his state doesn't allow such marriages. He knows that an ERA hasn't meant abortion on demand because Pennsylvania has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. He knows that an ERA obviously hasn't meant same-sex restrooms. And he knows that an ERA hasn't put Pennsylvania into combat any faster than it has put the women of states without ERAs.
Sixteen states have ERAs in their state constitutions, including such socially conservative states as Texas, New Hampshire, and Montana, and thus have given their citizens more legal protection against sex discrimination. They obviously have not resulted in the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenarios.
Now that the Senate has voted overwhelmingly to add Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, it should take the next logical step on an issue about which she obviously cares deeply: Propose and pass a federal equal rights amendment to add women to the Constitution. Let's give our representatives in Congress and in state legislatures another chance to say loud and clear that women never again will be second-class citizens.