An equality amendment that was proposed nearly 100 years ago, passed by the U.S. government in 1972, killed 10 years later and resurrected in 2017 is up for ratification in South Carolina's current legislative session.
Two bills in the state's …
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Two bills in the state's House of Representatives would, if passed, ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in South Carolina, giving the ERA the 38-state majority it needs to become the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"The right to vote did not give women complete equal justice under the law," said Barbara Fry, leader of the S.C. Equal Means ERA Coalition, a group sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Charleston.
The amendment, written in 1923 by suffragette Alice Paul, reads "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 has the objective of expanding the protection of women's rights by the Constitution from voting rights into other areas such as the workplace and health care.
"We support this because it is important for pay equality, reproductive rights, protection against domestic violence and legal protection against discrimination overall," said Dee Woodward, president of the LWV of Sumter County.
After passing the deadline for ratification in 1982 with too few states' approval, the bill was rejuvenated 35 years later when Nevada passed it. Illinois followed suit in 2018, leaving the amendment one state under the three-fourths of all states majority it needs to be added to the Constitution.
Now, states such as South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia have ERA legislation of their own.
"We're talking about basic equal rights for women - legislation that we should have passed 40 years ago," state Rep. Cezar McKnight, a Democrat from Williamsburg and a sponsor of one of the South Carolina ERA bills, said.
But the ERA wasn't passed 40 years ago in South Carolina, and the bills that would ratify it in 2019 are resting in a subcommittee of the S.C. House's Judiciary Committee.
The bills will have to pass through subcommittee, pass in the Judiciary Committee and then make it through three readings on the House floor before going to the Senate in order for the ERA to pass this session.
"It's going to be really tough to pass this session because we're getting close to the crossover period when all bills have to be in the Senate," McKnight said.
What's holding up the states who haven't passed the amendment? The language of the legislation seems simple, but one word is a red flag for some opponents.
"The amendment was written using the word 'sex,' and now people are [upset] about that for reasons pertaining to the transgender and LGBTQ communities," Fry said.
"Sex" is defined as someone's anatomy, while "gender" is to do with someone's personal identification. Some feel that the ERA proponents are attempting to mix sex discrimination with gender discrimination, which could redefine the equality conversation as one based on the idea of two sexes, male and female.
More conservative critics in the 1970s and today feel the ERA pushes for more accessible abortion and aims to alienate femininity and sexually liberate women.
"In the 1970s, the opposition scared people about the ERA," Fry said. "There was a fear of a woman losing her role as a wife, or men losing their jobs of protecting their wives or [LGBTQ] people having rights, and I'm sure there are people out there now saying the same things."
But against all opposition, South Carolina chapters of the LWV, Equal Means ERA and legislators such as McKnight are forging ahead with the ERA.
"We've got such a boatload of problems down here and, if we show we're for equality, it could be wonderful PR for this state if we are smart enough to take advantage of it," Fry said.
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