Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Ghost of the ERA

The ERA may be a herald for gay rights. Women are still not truly equal. And gay rights may follow the same path, becoming a sort of ghostly equality, not quite there, not quite complete.

I spent this past weekend at a wonderful songwriting workhop on Shaw Island. Over dinner, one of the hosts mentioned to me that she spent a lot of time trying to get the ERA passed. For those of you who may not be up on what seems like old history, the ERA is a simple bill:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

It has been passed by 35 of the required 38 states, and is still reintroduced in Congress annually. The fact that it has not passed means that we women still do not have equal rights.

Yet as far as I can tell, the ERA is considered somehwat passe feminist history.
Many people say we no longer need the ERA - that we have equal rights. My own history would tend to bear this out -- I have had fine and equal jobs, and I know that I do, in fact. make at least as much as any other male in my field in a similar sized city, and in general, I make more. Opportunities have been available to me and I have rarely felt discrimination based on my sex.

My life, perhaps, sybolizes that progress has been made. But I was also born into an upper middle-class family, given a good education, and blessed enough to live on the rather more enlightened West Coast for nearly all of my life.

For many, the glass ceiling still exists. as of 2004 statistics, women still earn 77 cents on the dollar against men. The gap is even larger for minorities. Inequality doesn't stop with pay. Women are for more likley to be victims of rape and abuse than men. Women are not - quite - equal. Minoriy women are even less equal.

The fight for women's rights in America is pretty much under the radar in most places. My conversation in the weekend cabin made me think of the more current issue of rights based on sexual orientation. They seem, also, to be going the way of the ERA. Recent state votes indicate that there probably would not be 38 states to vote for equal rights. Hopefully, there are not 38 states to ratify an ammendment against, either.

Only one state allows gay marriage (which is not full equal rights - it just equalizes one important right and the host of priviledges and responsibilities that go with it). No states have voted for gay marriage. Here in fairly liberal Washington State, we haven't managed to pass a legislative promise not to discrimate against people at work for sexual orientation (it missed by one vote this year).

After I got up from my dinnertable conversation and sat down to write in my journal, I felt the ghost of the ERA following us into the current rights fight. It looks likely that people will be discrimated against on the basis of sexual orientation for a long time. The future may be a long slow journey full of tiny battles (some wins, some losses).

Wouldn't it be better to just pass equal rights for women and sexual minorities, and anyone else who needs them and move forward? Why not be free?

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