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  1. Opinion

Here’s why Florida should ratify the Equal Rights Amendment | Editorial

It’s time to set the record straight. On paper.
An estimated 10,000 marchers descend on the Capitol building in Springfield, Ill., to demonstrate for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, May 16, 1976. [FILE  |  Associated Press]
An estimated 10,000 marchers descend on the Capitol building in Springfield, Ill., to demonstrate for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, May 16, 1976. [FILE | Associated Press]
Published Sep. 6, 2019

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” It’s a phrase that makes sense. It’s a phrase that deserves to be part of our U.S. Constitution. If the Florida Legislature were to make the right move and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in the 2020 legislative session, it could.

The ERA carries with it many connotations that have little to do with the substance of the amendment itself. Vocal opponent Phyllis Schlafly once told National Public Radio in an interview that the ERA would “make all laws sex-neutral.” But there’s no evidence for that. In fact, there’s no good argument against the Equal Rights Amendment. The very words make it clear that the ERA’s sole aim is to ensure equality among different genders. It actually reflects the same language as the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

The Equal Rights Amendment is once again on the precipice of being ratified by enough states to be added to the Constitution. In May 2018, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the ERA. Only one more is needed to see three-fourths, or 38 states, ratify the amendment. While five states have rescinded their ratification, that action has not been treated as legally valid in the past. In Florida, state legislators have repeatedly introduced the amendment since 2003 but it has not made it to the full House or Senate. Last month, both St. Petersburg and Tampa city councils approved resolutions in support of the ERA. The Hillsborough County Commission also has approved a resolution in support.

Yet in Tallahassee, there has been no action. There is no reason equal rights for all should be a partisan issue. For an overwhelming number of voters, it is not. In a 2016 national on-line survey conducted by the Equal Rights Coalition, 94 percent said they supported an amendment to the Constitution that “guarantees equal rights for both men and women.” Perhaps a bigger problem is that 80 percent thought men and women were already guaranteed equal rights in the Constitution. Right now, they are not and that is a shame.

Even young Floridians are confused. When one young woman learned Florida had yet to ratify the ERA in a television interview, she said, “I’m so tired of living here.” At this week’s luncheon of Tampa’s Athena Society, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said it was time for Florida “to be on the cutting edge of something positive.” Ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment would be a good place to start.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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