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Utah lawmakers push for ERA ratification, reviving political battle

This Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, photo, shows supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment as they rally at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. The renewed national push to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment is coming to conservative Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Equal Rights Amendment has returned to the Utah State Legislature. Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, is pushing for the ratification of the amendment to the United States Constitution as a means to protecting equal rights. 

Under Senate Joint Resolution 8, Utah would officially ratify the amendment — bringing an end to the decades-long battle for constitutional protection from gender discrimination. 

“We have the opportunity to make a grand gesture to tout our history and promote the message of reaffirming the value of women,” the bill reads. “The message of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment sets forth a narrative to inspire generations to come.” 

The decades-long political battle for the ERA

The ERA was first introduced to Congress nearly a century ago in 1928 by Alice Paul. After years of revisions, it was officially sent to states for ratification in 1972 after it passed both the Senate and the House. 

The catch? The amendment included a seven-year deadline to reach the 38-state threshold to ratify the amendment. 

By 1978 — one year before the deadline — the amendment only had support from 35 of the states. Congress voted to extend the deadline by three years until June 1982. However, no other states signed on by then. 

Ever since, someone reintroduces it in Congress pretty much every year.

In 2020, Virginia finally ratified the amendment, bringing it to the 38 states needed to add an amendment to the Constitution. But, the legal ramifications are still unclear. 

That’s because several states’ ratifications happened after the original deadline, posing certain legal challenges when it’s reintroduced to Congress. Five states who previously signed to ratify the amendment ended up rescinding their support — but none of these were considered valid. 

In short, Utah’s ratification would largely be symbolic because the amendment has already reached the 38-state margin. 

As more states ratify the amendment, Congress must vote to extend its own deadline before adding it as an official amendment. 

The ERA in Utah 

The ERA has somewhat of a contentious history with Utah. Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, introduced a similar bill to the legislature last year, but it died on the floor before lawmakers considered it. 

During its cultural height, Utah was notorious in the 1960s and 70s for opposing the ERA — especially as church leaders publicly denounced the ratification. Church leaders published articles and lobbied against the legislation, arguing it would lead to increased abortions, unisex bathrooms and damage to families. 

However, Riebe argues it’s not much different from what Utah already protects in its state constitution. 

Article IV, Section 1 of the Utah Constitution guarantees “the rights of citizens […] to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.” It also protects equal rights and privileges for “both male and female citizens.” 

Some lawmakers argued the amendment would affect abortion laws or possibly require future military drafts to include women. 

However, the ERA is largely popular in the Beehive State. In fact, a 2020 poll from UtahPolicy.com found 71% of Utahns support the ratification of the amendment. 

In 2019, the state legislature passed a joint resolution titled “Reaffirming the Value of Women,” which recommended these protections extend to the U.S. Constitution. 

“The scope of the Equal Rights Amendment fits with the language and intent of the Utah Constitution provision guaranteeing equal political rights,” the bill reads. “Our generation today and future generations will benefit from knowing our history of equal political rights.”

 

Other news from Capitol Hill: 

Lawmaker hopes for ‘mental change’ to prevent child sexual abuse through bill

Utah bill allowing any doctor to recommend medical marijuana prompts concern among some experts

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