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Romney a ‘no’ as the Senate’s Equal Rights Amendment vote falters

FILE - This Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, photo, Equal Rights Amendment supporters Donnie Davis, left, and Jeanne Mackenzie, join others during a rally at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Roughly 200 people gathered at the Capitol to encourage Utah to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Rick Bowmer
AP, file
FILE - This Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, photo, Equal Rights Amendment supporters Donnie Davis, left, and Jeanne Mackenzie, join others during a rally at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Roughly 200 people gathered at the Capitol to encourage Utah to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

After announcinga “historic” vote on the Equal Rights Amendment at the beginning of the week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer brought it to the floor on Thursday. The proposed addition to the Constitution, which has been on a long and winding road, would protect Americans against sex discrimination.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins were the only Republican votes that joined Senate Democrats in support (Utah Sen. Mitt Romney was a nay and Mike Lee did not vote). The final 51-47 vote was not enough to overcome a filibuster.

Schumer was one of the no votes. On the Senate floor, the Democratic leader said his ERA vote will allow Congress to “go back and cast a vote again in the future.”

“This issue is too important and so we're not giving up,” he said. “So I'm moving to reconsider so I can bring it back up at a later time.”

If the resolution had passed, it would have removed the state ratification deadline set by Congress nearly 50 years ago. That deadline is keeping the ERA from becoming the 28th constitutional amendment.

In 1972, Congress overwhelmingly supported it. As an amendment to the Constitution, at least 38 states also needed to give their approval. Only 35 did by both the original and extended deadlines. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints played a key role in keeping Utah from ratifying when Congress passed it in the 1970s.

The church’s position in the 70s was that the Equal Rights Amendment brought forth “moral issues” because of its potential ability to impact the family unit and challenge “laws that have safeguarded the family and afforded women necessary protections and exemptions.”

In an email to KUER, Sam Penrod, the communications manager with the LDS Church, said “the church does not have a statement to share” on the vote but also noted that “the church’s position has not changed.”

In 2017, Nevada ratified the ERA and Illinois followed in 2018. Utah had the opportunity to be the 38th state — the last state needed — to ratify in 2019. It didn’t happen.

Former Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham has been advocating for the passage of the ERA her entire legal career. She lobbied Utah lawmakers in 1974, 1975 and once again in 2019.

“I lobbied at the Utah Legislature for actually just getting a vote on it because the Utah Legislature actually locked it up in committee and didn't let it out for a floor vote,” she said.

A year later, in 2020, Virginia was the last state to ratify. Soon afterward, the U.S. House voted to eliminate the June 30, 1982 ratification deadline. Republican Rep. John Curtis was the lone yes vote from Utah.

Durham noted the Utah Constitution has always had an equal protection clause, “yet the Utah Legislature has never been willing to ratify a federal provision.”

Kathy Biele, the president of the League of Women Voters of Utah, said the state-level equal protection provision isn’t enough.

“I think this is often used as an excuse not to move forward with the ERA,” she said. “We need a national policy that says women are equal.”

Biele added the amendment is even more critical since there are state laws targeting access to abortion and transgender health care. She also said the ERA would provide a defense against the gender wage gap beyond the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said the conservative organization has always been against the amendment. The national Eagle Forum was first founded in 1972 and was initially titled “Stop ERA.”

The group’s main argument is that “there are differences between men and women.” Ruzicka pointed to bodily strength and the ability of women to carry children as an example.

“And when we pass something as blanket as the Equal Rights Amendment, then we're trying to say we're the same, and we're not,” she said.

For Ruzicka, the ERA could impact family law and the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. She also believes equal protection should be left up to the states to decide.

She added it’s “illegal” for Congress to pass an amendment that expired decades ago.

“If they want to pass an Equal Rights Amendment, then just start all over,” she said.

Sen. Romney agrees with Ruzicka’s opinion. In a statement to KUER before the vote, Romney said he’s “proud that Utahns helped lead the fight for women’s suffrage in our country” and he “strongly supports the prohibitions against sex discrimination,” but that the process imposed by Schumer did not follow the rules.

“I believe that any potential amendment must follow the process laid out in the Constitution, and I cannot support this effort to change the rules after the fact,” he said.

Sen. Lee wasn’t in Washington for the vote due to a family function, according to his communication director Lee Lonsberry.

Despite devoting her legal career to eliminating discrimination “across the board,” Durham said she isn’t “terribly optimistic” that the ERA will be a part of the Constitution in her lifetime. But if it does, “the passage of the amendment after all of that would be a deeply satisfying personal result for me.”

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
Jim is an editor and digital content manager in the KUER newsroom.
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