Could Sen. Martha McSally’s rape disclosure revive the Equal Rights Amendment?

EJ Montini

The Republicans who control the Arizona Legislature refused again this year to give a hearing to a resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, saying it isn’t necessary.

They’re wrong.

There’s evidence of that every day.

Perhaps the recent disclosure by Sen. Martha McSally, who said this week that she was raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force, demonstrates just how much the ERA is still necessary.

Times have changed, clearly, but not all attitudes. And not all legal protections or opportunities to redress grievances, as clearly shown by McSally’s experience and the same abuse endured by an untold number of women.

On Monday, women in Arizona are planning to begin three days of marches to encourage state lawmakers to pass the ERA. That would make Arizona the 38th state to ratify the amendment — and that is the number of states needed to put the ERA into the U.S. Constitution, depending upon expected legal challenges.

Gloria Steinem, Dick Gregory, Betty Friedan and Reps. Elizabeth Holtzman, D-N.Y., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Margaret Heckler, R-Mass., at ERA march in Washington on July 9, 1978.

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Passing the ERA would be a fitting tribute to Arizona’s Sandra Day O’Connor.

The former Supreme Court Justice introduced a bill supporting the ERA back in the 1970s, when she was a member of the Arizona Senate. She said at the time that the ERA “stands in the tradition of other great amendments to the Constitution.”

Since then the campaign against the ERA often has been based on misinformation and fearmongering.

Constitution doesn't prohibit sex discrimination

In February Arizona lawmakers received a letter from the president of the American Bar Association, Robert M. Carlson, urging them to pass the amendment.

He wrote in part, “The ERA is needed to assure that gender equality is recognized as a fundamental, irrevocable right protected by the highest law of the land.”

How do we know that?

Essentially, the argument against the ERA these days comes from those who say it’s not needed. That women’s rights are better protected now than they ever were.

But they’re not yet equal.

The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia put it this way: “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”

McSally shows field isn't level for women

It should.

As the Bar Association’s president put it, having an ERA “means judges would use the same standard of review in sex discrimination cases that they now use in deciding cases involving discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin.”

There is probably no one tougher or more resilient than McSally. She’s proven that by how far she’s come based on what she’s had to endure.

But her painful personal disclosure during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee shows that the playing field for women still isn’t level.

It’s a simple premise, upon which I suspect we all agree. Or should.

As the amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

EJ Montini is a columnist at The Arizona Republic, where this column first appeared. Follow him on Twitter: @ejmontini

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Could Sen. Martha McSally’s rape disclosure revive the Equal Rights Amendment?