The push for an Equal Rights Amendment in Minnesota

One woman holds an ERA Yes sign, with many more in the background.
Advocates for a state Equal Rights Amendment gather at the Minnesota Capitol Thursday to ask lawmakers to pass a measure to put the issue before voters on the ballot in November.
Nina Moini | MPR News

Advocates for a proposed Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, to the state constitution hope to bring the question before voters on the November ballot.

The constitutional amendment would state that women and men have equal rights under the law. If passed by Minnesota voters, it would go into effect January 2021.

What is the history of the federal ERA?

The proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” According to ERA Minnesota, the state has been active since the 1970s to try getting the ERA passed. Minnesota was the 26th state to ratify the federal amendment in 1973. Not enough states nationwide ratified before a 1982 deadline. This year, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA. This makes a majority of states needed to ratify the U.S. Constitutional amendment. There are legal differences over whether the deadline applies.

What is the status of the Minnesota ERA?

Last year, an ERA state House bill passed with some bipartisan support. The bill would put the proposed amendment to the state constitution on the November 2020 ballot for voters to decide. A companion bill is now before the Minnesota Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy committee. Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, will decide if the bill gets a hearing during this Legislative session. If not, advocates say they will continue efforts next year to try to pass the bills.

What is the argument for an ERA?

Advocates for an ERA in Minnesota and elsewhere say it would apply a more rigid standard of legal scrutiny, called “strict scrutiny” to legal cases involving gender discrimination. Gender would join the list of constitutionally protected classes of race and religion and country of origin. Supporters say the amendment would also help close the gender wage gap and other disparities between men and women.

Who opposes the ERA?

Some critics of the ERA say they don’t want the wording of the proposed amendment to the Minnesota constitution to create a powerful constitutional tool in legal matters surrounding abortion by raising gender or sex to a protected status equivalent to race. Some critics say if the ERA wording is amended to state that it is abortion-neutral, they could support it. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, or MCCL, says “pro-lifers are convinced that all human beings (male or female, born or unborn) are equal and deserve protection of their equal fundamental rights under the law, which is why we can't support measures that could be used to discriminate against vulnerable members of the human family.” A version of an amendment to the ERA proposal that MCCL supported was defeated in the Minnesota House last year.

What’s next?

While supporters argue Congress could just set a new deadline for the ERA, the Justice Department stated earlier this year that, “The ERA Resolution has expired and is no longer pending before the states.” In Minnesota, the House ERA bill that passed last year expires next year, meaning advocates will be back at square one with a new legislative body after the 2020 election.

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