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Bill to ratify federal ERA introduced in Missouri House

December 01, 1999
By: Michael Patrick Carney
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - It's a different era, but the same ERA.

The proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution hasn't changed much since it was first floated by Alice Paul, a suffragette, more than 70 years ago. The language remains simple, and ratification just out of reach.

On Wednesday, about one hundred people -- the vast majority female -- gathered in the State Capitol. They held a rally and Rep. Deleta Williams, D-Warrensburg, filed a resolution that would ratify the 28th Amendment.

In Missouri, the General Assembly has debated and debated and debated the issue, but never agreed to join the 35 states that ratified the amendment before a 1982 deadline. It fell three short of the necessary two-thirds.

"Surely the other half of us ought to be in the Constitution," said Carol Conway, the National Organization for Women's Missouri coordinator.

The proposal 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."

"Gender equality is an old issue," said Shirley Breeze, president of the Missouri Women's Network.

Breeze said the 203 years it took to ratify the 27th Amendment, which says Congress can't give itself a mid-session pay raise, makes her optimistic. The proponents' national strategy is to convince three states to get on board and then have Congress enact legislation that authorizes the ratification.

Gender equality then would be carved into the foundation of America's legal system.

The legal reasoning behind this strategy has never been tested, supporters admit.

"I think it's good symbolism, I think it would also be good law," said Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, who was represented at the rally by his wife, Jean Carnahan.

The rhetoric, it seems, has been preserved through the years.

"I think the record is so clear that ERA would put abortion funding and same-sex marriage into the Constitution," said Phyllis Schlafly, one of the nation's leading opponents of ERA in the 1970s who still resides across the river from St. Louis in Alton, Ill.

"If someone votes against it they truly do not believe in the statement that women should be equal in the constitution of the United States," Conway said.

"I think it's ridiculous and any legislator who affixes his name to it will be a laughingstock," said Schlafly. "I think what they are doing is essentially a fundraiser for the National Organization for Women."

The stridency of the debate during the 1970s was replaced with an almost theatrical environment as Williams, the House sponsor of a bill ratifying the ERA. She led about 50 people single-file up three floors to the House clerk's office. After a staged presentation, and three refrains of Hip-Hip-Hooray, those gathered in the hallway changed their tune.

"Hip-Hip-ERA, Hip-Hip-ERA, Hip-Hip-ERA," they chanted.