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Lawmaker Hopes Utah Will Make History As 38th State To Ratify The ERA

Rep. Karen Kwan introduces bill surrounded by supporters
Rocio Hernandez
State Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Taylorsville, introduced a bill Tuesday that would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in Utah. The ERA adds language to the U.S. Constitution on equal rights for all people regardless of sex.

Four decades ago, a movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in Utah failed due to opposition from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other groups that feared that it would dismantle families.

Retired Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham, who has supported the ERA since the 1970s, said the world has changed since then and doesn’t think the arguments made against the ERA in the past have any implications today. 

She and about 175 other people joined state Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Taylorsville, on Tuesday at the Utah Capitol where Kwan introduced a bill to revive the effort. Other Utah politicians included Salt Lake County Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani, Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, and House Minority Whip Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay. 

Equal Rights Amendment supporters stand on Utah Capitol steps
Credit Rocio Hernandez / KUER
About 175 people came to the Utah Capitol on Tuesday to show their support for the Equal Rights Amendment as Rep. Karen Kwan introduced a bill to ratify it in Utah. If it passes, Utah would become the 38th state to ratify the amendment.

“There’s such a momentum across the nation and there’s momentum building in our state,” Durham said. “It’s time.”

The amendment, which was passed by Congress in 1972, states that “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 needed the approval of 38 states in order to be added to the Constitution, but only 35 ratified it by a 1982 deadline.

Women are not currently a protected group under the U.S. Constitution, but Utah’s constitution already spells out equal rights protections for women, Kwan said. 

“It’s not going to change any laws in Utah because we’ve already had it for 125 years guaranteed in our state constitution,” she said. 

But Carolina Sagebin Allen was one of about two dozen people who showed up at the Capitol in opposition to the ERA. The group said they fear that full implementation would roll back certain protections for women such as access to alimony and child support and exemptions for women from the military draft. They also worry that it would expand legal abortion. 

Group protesting against Equal Rights Amendment
Credit Rocio Hernandez / KUER
About two dozen people stood at the Utah Capitol's rotunda in opposition to the ratification of the ERA. They say they fear it will expand legal abortion and rollback certain protections for women.

Sagebin Allen said she supports women’s rights but doesn’t think the ERA is the right way to go about it.

“I feel like it’s antiquated and that its not going to accomplish what its setting out to accomplish,” she said. 

A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told KUER that its opposition to the ERA hasn’t changed in the last 40 years.

To date, 37 states have ratified the ERA, including Nevada in 2017 and Illinois in 2018. One more is needed for the ERA to be fully implemented nationwide.

Some Virginia lawmakers are also hoping to ratify the ERA next year.

Rocio is coming to KUER after spending most of her life under the blistering Las Vegas sun and later Phoenix. She earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish at the University of Nevada, Reno. She did brief stints at The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Reno Public Radio. She enjoys wandering through life with her husband and their toy poodle.
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