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Rally in Utah State Capitol puts focus on Equal Rights Amendment

Equal Rights Amendment supporters rally at the state Capitol as they seek ratification of the ERA by Utah on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Taylorsville, plans to introduce legislation to have Utah ratify the ERA.
Equal Rights Amendment supporters rally at the state Capitol as they seek ratification of the ERA by Utah on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Taylorsville, plans to introduce legislation to have Utah ratify the ERA.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The renewed attempt to pass the Equal Rights Amendment came to the rotunda of the Utah State Capitol on Tuesday as 220 sign-carrying supporters rallied to ask Utah lawmakers to ratify the amendment.

Nearby, 40 people gathered to counter the rally with signs of their own.

Chants and counter-chants echoed in the rotunda at the end of the hourlong event, and both sides made plenty of comments about the fact that it has been 40 years since the original deadline for ratification passed into history.

Congress sent the ERA to the states for ratification in 1972. The legislatures of 35 states approved the ERA, but it fell short of 38 states required for full ratification before two contested deadlines passed, the second in 1982.

After that second deadline, the issue died until ERA supporters revived it in 1994 with a “three-state strategy.” They believed that despite the missed deadlines, and rescinded approvals from five states, the deadlines could be peeled back to allow three more states to agree to amend the Constitution.

The deadline issue remains unresolved, but Nevada ratified the ERA in 2017. Illinois followed in 2018. A joint resolution to have Utah ratify the ERA and become the third and final state in the strategy will be introduced in the state Legislature in early 2020 by Utah House Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, she said at Tuesday’s rally.

Virginia’s legislature also appears ready to make the ERA a priority in 2020, according to The Hill.

But whether it can move forward at all remains an open question.

Kwan, former Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham and others encouraged supporters during Tuesday’s events. Signs included phrases like, “Utah should be the 38th state” and “I’ve been waiting since 1972. ERA now.”

“Until we have our own provision in the Constitution, we will not be truly equal under the federal Constitution,” Durham said during the rally.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill also attended the rally in support of the ERA.

The position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not mentioned during Tuesday’s noontime rally but arose later in the day after media inquiries. Church leaders opposed the ERA in the 1970s, asking members to oppose it. Tuesday afternoon, a spokesman for the church said, “The church’s position on this issue has been consistent for more than 40 years.”

Opponents of the ERA, including those in the counter protest Tuesday, have argued that there are unintended consequences to the amendment, including potential changes to family law and abortion law, among other things.

The effort to revive it now faces significant legal and constitutional challenges that can be summarized in one compound question: Can ERA supporters rescind the deadlines that were set for ratification while denying states the right to rescind their ratifications?

The issue could well end up at the U.S. Supreme Court, however, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who worked on the ERA in the 1960s and ’70s, already has said that the movement would have to start the ratification process all over again.

“I hope someday (the ERA) will be put back in the political hopper and we’ll be starting over again collecting the necessary states to ratify it,” Ginsburg told students at George Washington University on Sept. 19, as reported by the National Law Journal.

On Tuesday, Durham said she believes Ginsburg is wrong. She also said that if supporters work around the issue of the deadlines, they will face the issue of rescinded ratification by the legislatures of Idaho, Nebraska, Tennessee, Kentucky and South Dakota. Opponents said those rescissions mean the ERA has been ratified by 32 states.

Those issues weren’t part of Tuesday’s rallies.