SALT LAKE CITY — About 50 people gathered at the statue of Seraph Young Tuesday at the Utah Capitol to urge legislators to pass a resolution to amend the U.S. Constitution on equality for women’s rights.
The Utah Equal Rights Amendment Coalition hosted the midmorning rally in the last days of the legislative session. The hushed crowd’s interest focused on advocates who came to speak for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
“The value we speak of today is constitutional equality for women and men. Such is the Equal Rights Amendment and such is a progression of this ideal in our home, Utah; a state that saw the need for gender equality in 1895 and enshrined that right in our state constitution,” said Emily Bell McCormick, executive committee member of the Utah ERA Coalition.
What is the Equal Rights Amendment?
Kelly Whited Jones, chairwoman of the Utah ERA Coalition, spoke about the history of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. She said it was originally drafted and put forth in 1923 but was not passed by Congress until 1972 and was only ratified by 35 of the necessary 38 states before the deadline.
“It truly is, in my view, a Utah value and we believe all are worthy of fundamental equal rights and protection in our founding and sacred document: the U.S. Constitution,” said Whited Jones.
Miranda Lavallee, a Salt Lake City resident who works for the county’s after-school program in Magna, said she would like to see everything change for women in Utah, but one of her biggest concerns is for women and wives to be able to be breadwinners.
“Be it more affordable day care, maybe it’s just more after-school programs that are funded by grants, and just to see more women back in the workforce,” she said.
“More women have suffered in COVID because they’re fundamentally, in our society, the ones who take care of children, myself included,” she said.
She added that despite her feminism-supporting husband and the equilibrium she’s found with her job, she and her husband still work hard to balance responsibilities and not fall into standard gender roles.
But why Utah and why now?
The bipartisan Senate resolution, SJR9, co-sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, and Senate Majority Assistant Kirk Cullimore, R-Draper, is the current effort to get Utah to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Whited Jones decried the fact that the resolution for ratification still sits in the Senate Rules Committee on the 41st day of the 2021 legislative session, which ends Friday. She called on the crowd to contact their lawmakers to insist the resolution be moved forward.
A similar resolution was introduced in the House last year, and also did not move forward to be debated in committee nor on the House floor.
Erin Preston, of Herriman and an attorney at Lear & Lear, said there are those who question why Utah needs more equality for women if its state constitution does more than the ERA would on the federal level.
“There are a lot of questions as to why do we need this. ... To that, I would say 67 cents on the dollar. To that, I would say the lowest per-pupil funding in the nation ... the education of our children is a women’s issue. We have the highest rate of molestation in the entire nation,” Preston said.
She also referred to the increase in disparity between men and women as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation, causing business shutdowns and layoffs.
“We have to be the one who stays home with our kids. We have to figure out the way to make more money in a system that didn’t necessarily, wasn’t necessarily set up for somebody who also has to be able to do the needs of mothers and otherwise,” she said.
But the loss of work wasn’t the only way in which women said they felt the inequality.
Equality between men and women in the workforce
Jessica Wojciechowski, a University of Utah student and student body president-elect, said there was no better time than now for Utah to ratify the ERA.
“I have experienced these (disparities). The women I work alongside have experienced these (disparities). And my two younger cousins who are experiencing these disparities are looking to me, and are looking to us to make the change for them and their future as women,” she said.
Vickie Samuelson, co-president of the League of Women Voters Utah, explained how she experienced discrimination from her male counterparts when she decided to move into what the time period called nontraditional women’s jobs.
“... But it was a very hostile environment. Men didn’t want us there. So you had to grow a really thick skin, because they did everything and said everything they could to possibly get you to move on, go away and go back to where you belong. I hung in there, managed to make it all the way through,” she said.
Whited Jones called the effort to ratify the ERA a relay race, one that was passed down from ancestors and one they’ll pass onto their children.
“To break through the tape at the finish line we are not just running this race for some women, we are running this race for all Utah women, with fundamental rights under the law as our prize and our foundation,” said an emotional Whited Jones.
Samuelson summed up the need for an intergenerational perspective when it comes to supporting women’s rights and the ratification of the ERA.
“I realized that I don’t have the protections that my husband does. My daughter doesn’t have that. My granddaughter doesn’t have that. Neither do my great-granddaughters ... We’ve got to get this across the finish line,” she said. “It’s going come, it’s going to come, I have faith that it’s going to come.”