The North Dakota Senate was correct to reject an effort to rescind the state’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The defeat of House Concurrent Resolution 3037 was razor thin, 24-23.
North Dakota ratified the amendment in 1975 during a time when a national debate raged over the impact of the ERA. Supporters argued it guaranteed equal rights for women, while opponents predicted dire consequences such as unlimited abortions. So far 35 states have ratified the amendment, but 38 are needed to put it in the Constitution. Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota ratified the amendment, but later withdrew their support. An effort in Virginia to ratify the amendment failed by one vote in February.
Supporters of HCR3037 argue that the state’s ratification of the ERA expired in 1979. Some legal scholars believe, based on historical and U.S. Supreme Court precedent, that states can’t rescind ratification. Meanwhile, Congress has two bills pending that would extend the deadline for ratification. It all indicates if 38 states ratify the amendment that the courts will have to resolve the issues.
In the more than 40 years since North Dakota ratified the amendment our society has changed immensely. How our attitudes evolved are reflected daily in today’s digital world. That has also kept alive the fears created by the ERA. Those fears include the expansion of abortion rights along with the end of abortion restrictions; a change in the definition of gender; and the ability of the government to draft women and send them into combat. Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, a supporter, says the amendment merely 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."
The nation has been arguing about these issues in some form since women fought for and won the right to vote. This week’s vote in the North Dakota Legislature won’t end the debate. The Tribune Editorial Board doesn’t believe if the amendment is ratified by 38 states, and that’s no certainty, that the predictions of opponents will come true.
What’s certain is that the ERA or any legislation won’t resolve all issues involving gender. We can mandate equality, but conflicts will continue, often because of misunderstandings.
An example was a recent amendment to Senate Bill 2185 that would allow judges to terminate the parental rights of somebody who pleaded guilty to or was convicted of a rape that led to the child's birth. The House Judiciary Committee added an amendment providing an exemption for instances when "the parent is married to the victim of the sexual act." Janelle Moos, executive director of CAWS North Dakota, said the amendment "really just turns the whole concept of the bill and our understanding of rape on its head."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, said the amendment was intended to address an unlikely circumstance in which a couple stays together after a rape. After complaints about the amendment the committee removed it on Monday and voted a “do pass” for the bill.
It’s wise that the committee responded to the feedback and removed the amendment. The path to equality will require people to listen and to take appropriate action. Mandates will go only so far. If the ERA wins approval it will create a framework for a more equal society, but the issue won’t be resolved. A lot of work will remain.