SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said he can't see why anyone would oppose his just-introduced resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, 35 years after it fell three states short of becoming part of the U.S. Constitution.
"If you read the 29 words, it says neither the people of Utah nor the people of the United States will discriminate against women or against anybody as a result of sex. Who in 2017 could be opposed to that really? Nobody," Dabakis said Wednesday.
SJR10 seeks to add this statement to the Constitution: "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 also calls for Congress to remove the 1982 deadline for passage.
The ERA, first proposed in the 1920s, was passed by Congress in 1972. Thirty-eight states were needed to ratify the amendment, and by 1982, the ERA had been approved in 35 states.
But conservative backlash led by a group that later became the Eagle Forum helped defeat the amendment in Utah and other states. For the past decade, ERA supporters have been trying to revive the amendment.
Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka said the concerns about the amendment haven't changed.
"The amendment says men and women are exactly the same. We're not," Ruzicka said, citing instances where women should be treated differently, including when they give birth or are unable to match a man's strength.
"I appreciate the fact there are things in the law that protect me as a woman," the longtime conservative activist said. "And I certainly don’t want my daughters and granddaughters drafted into the military."
Ruzicka said women haven't been hurt because the amendment is not in the Constitution.
"The ERA was defeated, and guess what? Here we are all these years later, and women have more rights than they ever had," she said. "Women have continued to move forward."
However, Dabakis, a former state Democratic Party chairman, sees the situation differently.
The senator said women continue to earn less than men, and while the ERA doesn't directly address equal pay for equal work, "it would make sure the reason it's not happening is because of discrimination."
The amendment also has symbolic value, he said, sending "a strong message in our culture that whatever happened in the past, we now accept women as full, complete and equal partners in every aspect of our lives."
Dabakis said he expects his resolution to get a hearing in the Legislature, especially after thousands of demonstrators poured into the Capitol on the first day of the session as part of women's marches held around the world.
"I don’t think that the Senate wants to be in the position of denying the 10,000 women who were here at least a hearing on a major issue to so many of them," he said.
Senate leaders did not commit to a hearing on SJR10, however.
"Personally, I don't know that we really need it," said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. He said it would be "up to the process" whether the resolution gets out of the Senate Rules Committee and assigned to a committee.
Niederhauser said issues such as the wage gap between men and women would be better addressed with specific legislation. Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, has said he plans to introduce a bill on the issue this session.
And, Niederhauser noted, the ERA "was not well-received in Utah" in the 1970s. The amendment was opposed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a moral issue.
Dabakis said it is time to move beyond what he termed the "baggage" associated with the history or the ERA.
"Even the most hardened man ought to look through the eyes of his daughters and his wife and his sisters and his family," he said. "The time for fighting this battle is over."