JEFFERSON CITY - More than 50 women of all ages showed up today in the Missouri statehouse for a rally called by local Democrats announcing the pre-filing of a joint resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Three other bills dealing with womens' issues were also pre-filed, concerning equal pay for equal work, prohibition of gender discrimination in public schools and the removal of Missouri's statute of limitations for rape.
The amendment, known as ERA, would become number 28 if adopted. It 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."
Among the audience were Shirl Carhart, 75, of the American Association of University Women, and Arcenia Harmon, 20, of the Stevens Feminist Organization.
"The amendment was first proposed in 1923," Carhart said. "What we have in the law now can be selectively enforced, it can be ignored, or it can not be funded, which is another way to stimy things."
"I'm here to support the ERA amendment," Harmon said. "Women have been working since the 1920's to get this past and it's ridiculous that we're still working on it."
This will be the fourth consecutive year the ERA has been proposed to the Missouri legislature since new legal developments and analyses have started arguing that the existing state ratifications of the ERA could still be valid. The ERA was three states short of the three fourths majority when its term limit expired in 1982.
Jennifer Macleod, co-founder and national coordinator of the ERA campaign network, argues that adoption of the ERA by Missouri legislators could have a snowball effect on other states to ratify, which in turn could lead to a "public outcry" if the amendment were not adopted at the federal level.
"The opposition will throw roadblocks in the way," said MacLeod. "It might go all the way to the Supreme Court."
But maybe the opposition is already in the way. Last year, not a single Missouri Republican voted in favor of the amendment.
"Ratifying the ERA at the state level is really pointless at this time," said Rep. Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, in a phone interview. "It seems silly to waste time on something that will have no legal effect."
Hanaway is also concerned that American citizens might not be fully aware of the potential consequences of the constitutional amendment. A nationwide survey released by the ERA Campaign Network found that 88 percent were in favor of having the Constitution state that male and female citizens are entitled to equal rights.
"Arguably, it could mean public funding for abortions," Hanaway said. "I don't think we should be writing into the Constitution the federal spending of abortion, an issue that is so controversial in our country today. That could be one unintended effect of the passage of ERA."
Proponents of ERA respond that their focus is on equal pay and opportunities, not abortion.
"Look at the amendment," said MacLeod. "There's nothing in there about abortion."
Other bills pre-filed today include the removal of Missouri's three year statute of limitations on forcible rape and sodomy, which used to protect defendants from the flailing memories of victims before the development of scientific evidence, such as DNA which can link an offender to a crime scene with great accuracy many years after the event took place.
Rep. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, also pre-filed her bill entitled "equal pay for equal work."
"I am here today because we have a problem," Bray said. "Women in Missouri are making 73.6 cents on the dollar that men are making."
The participants listened to speeches by representatives Bray, Deleta Williams, D-Warrensburg, and Barbara Fraser, D-St. Louis, and by Lt.-Gov. Joe Maxwell, then accompanied the state representatives to the third floor of the capitol building where the bills were officially attributed a number for next year's legislative session.