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It's been 100 years. It's time to ratify the ERA

This opinion was originally published in The Salt Lake Tribune.

As a board member of Utah ERA Coalition representing the League of Women Voters of Utah, I had the opportunity to join a recent video call during which Rep. Ayanna Pressley, MA-D, provided updates on current efforts to obtain official recognition of the Equal Rights Amendment’s ratification.

The ERA is being held hostage by legal contests allowing the U.S. archivist to withhold certification.

Our current U.S Congress blocked an effort in April to remove the arbitrary timeline imposed on the amendment, though they hold the power to extend it or remove it altogether. Utah’s own Sen. Mitt Romney is an active barrier to certification efforts, writing a letter last year insisting that the archivist not sign and again delay women from being fully equal under the law in our Constitution.

Though claiming to be allies, those who can act for women instead block equality efforts that are at the finish line. In a time when women’s equal rights have been revoked, leaving women as second-class citizens, the ERA is the backstop to sex discrimination wherever it occurs — on issues of reproductive rights, equal pay and equal justice for sexual harassment and abuse.

It is no wonder there are powerful efforts to stop the amendment from being certified, but this is a moment to stand with women, not stand in the way of their legal rights.

Though several states contest their prior ratification of the ERA, there is no precedent to rescind ratifications. Several states attempted to revoke ratification of the 14th Amendment and failed. To allow rescissions would create chaos for settled amendments. This will not prevent states from suing when opposition efforts fail, but the focus after 38 states have ratified the ERA must be on removing the timeline and signing into law full equality for Utah women and women nationwide.

The Biden administration can and must do more. Though supportive, like many allies, they do little to apply pressure in this pivotal moment and ensure hard won rights remain. Joe Biden has the power to compel the archivist to sign. Our senators and representatives should hear from us, but we must also require that our allies in power, especially President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, use the full force of the executive branch to ensure the success of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Advocates like Rep. Pressley and the National ERA Coalition remain dedicated to the fight for constitutional equality. On March 28, the first-ever Congressional ERA Caucus was created. Black women lead the caucus, allowing for an explicit focus on those who stand to benefit the most from gender protections. As the fifth-largest caucus in the U.S. House, the ERA Caucus is committed to addressing gender-based violence, wage inequality, bodily autonomy, reproductive rights and gender affirming care.

Further, an opinion issued last year by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel refuted a memo written by the prior administration and made clear that Congress can act to extend or remove the timeline altogether.

A last-minute vote reversal preserved the ability of the Senate Judicial Committee to revisit the question again this year — but it leaves women a hair’s breadth away from full protections in our Constitution.

We need your help to usher in gender equality. Here’s what you can do:

  • Contact your Utah representatives and ask them to support Pressley’s resolution, HJ Res 25.
  • Thank Rep. John Curtis for his two “yes” votes on the timeline removal and ask for his continued support of the ERA.
  • Remind our representatives that Utah women and women across the country have worked 100 years to be included in the Constitution. Simply stated, we deserve this added protection under the law.
  • Join with the Utah ERA Coalition, the League of Women Voters, and other like-minded organizations to support efforts to push this important work forward during the centennial year of its introduction.

We will persist.

Vickie Samuelson has been a member of the League of Women Voters for about 12 years. She serves on the board of the Utah ERA Coalition. Both groups have worked hard and will continue to work hard to get our equal rights in the United States Constitution.