North Dakota senators narrowly rejected a proposal backing away from the state's support of the Equal Rights Amendment Monday, amid a renewed national push to amend the U.S. Constitution.
The proposal sought to clarify that North Dakota's 1975 ratification of the ERA, which is aimed at a level legal playing field between women and men, expired in 1979. Backers said fully ratifying the ERA now would make a "mockery" of the process and have consequences unforeseen by prior lawmakers.
Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, rejected "fear-mongering and misleading statements about the ERA," stating that it's not about abortion or gender identity issues. She said she worked on ratifying the ERA in the 1970s and noted that it simply says that equal rights under the law "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
"We all owe a great deal to the women and the men who worked hard to raise people's awareness of the issues and who supported the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment," Lee said, calling the rollback resolution "a sharp stick in the eye of everyone who worked hard over the past 45 years to make laws more fair to men and women."
Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, said the ERA is not necessary because the 14th Amendment "gives equal rights to women now." She worried that the ERA "takes over" state's rights on women's issues and raised the specter of government funding for abortion.
"I would stand here as a woman today and say we live in a nation that is incredibly equal," Myrdal said.
House Concurrent Resolution 3037 ultimately failed in a 24-23 vote. It was sponsored by seven Republican men led by Rep. Chuck Damschen, R-Hampden.
Fully ratifying the ERA requires support from 38 states. Thirty-five states supported the amendment in the 1970s, and Nevada and Illinois recently became the 36th and 37th states to do so.
Five states moved in the 1970s to rescind their previous ERA ratification, including South Dakota, according to the Congressional Research Service.
But an expert on constitutional amendments previously said North Dakota's rollback resolution was merely a symbolic document. Robinson Woodward-Burns, an assistant professor of political science at Howard University in Washington, D.C., told Forum News Service last month that historical and U.S. Supreme Court precedent suggests that states don't have the authority to rescind ratification.
"As far as I can tell, the only thing this resolution does is create negative press for this body," said Sen. Kristin Roers, R-Fargo.