State Politics

NC Democrats try to resurrect 1972 Equal Rights Amendment

Legislative Democrats held a news conference Monday to call for North Carolina to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, a 1972 constitutional amendment on equal rights for women.

North Carolina was among 15 states that didn’t ratify the amendment in the 1970s after it passed Congress, and because it needed 38 states to be added to the U.S. Constitution, the amendment failed.

Bills filed in both the House and Senate this year would give the legislature a chance to ratify the amendment. Democrats argue that the amendment would address issues like equal pay for women.

“In North Carolina, the wage gap is still here, and it’s still affecting millions of women in our state,” said Rep. Susan Fisher, an Asheville Democrat. “The ERA would make this 100 percent illegal.”

The amendment says 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.”

Rep. Carla Cunningham, a Charlotte Democrat and the bill’s lead sponsor, says the amendment is long overdue. “The passage of the ERA is a nonpartisan issue, it is a women’s issue,” she said. “We only seek to be included in the United States Constitution just as our counterparts. We desire not anything more or less than the same rights to determine our destiny.”

Ratifying the amendment now would be mostly symbolic because the deadline for 38 states to take action expired decades ago. Sponsors of the North Carolina bill say they’re hopeful Congress would vote to add a new deadline or remove the deadline. Nevada’s legislature voted this month to ratify the amendment.

“We have to continue to be persistent about these fundamental human rights issues,” said Sen. Angela Bryant, a Rocky Mount Democrat. “We have to continue to push and knock at the door ... until our rights are recognized.”

Back in the 1970s, the Equal Rights Amendment faced opposition from conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, who argued that it could lead to the elimination of alimony laws, women’s colleges and gender-specific bathrooms.

N.C. Democratic lawmakers filed similar bills to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in 2015, but they did not get a hearing in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.