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Once again, the ERA 

I got a warm reception from a crowd of 150 Hot Springs Village Democrats recently for cheering the women in the audience who had participated in a rally to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I talked a bit about my mother, a low-tax, small-government Republican. She worked full-time in a man’s world, which meant she often took orders from and made less money than men who knew less. After all, they were men. The roomful of Hot Springs Village women laughed knowingly at the anecdotes.

My mother would cheer the new push to get the ERA ratified. Though the original ratification period ended in 1982, three states short of the necessary 38, a legal theory says Congress can extend the ratification period if three more states join in.

The votes likely exist in the legislature to put Arkansas in the vanguard. But a quirk of fate and an alarmist misinformation campaign could block the effort.

Some 70 House members are sponsoring the ERA, which should move out of committee this week (unless some sponsors go wobbly Wednesday morning). Sponsors are hopeful about majority support in the Senate because a pro-ERA head count is up at least two from a narrow loss in 2005. But, where four votes were necessary to clear committee in 2005, the measure now needs five on an eight-member committee with three Republicans, all opposed, of course, to equal rights for women. Democratic Sen. Bobby Glover, who’s been parroting right-wing scare talk on the issue, won’t vote for the ERA on the floor in any case, but he’s currently standing firm as the committee obstacle to a floor vote.

The Republican Religious Right says the ERA, which guarantees that rights may not be abridged on account of gender, is screeching that the ERA would lead to gay marriage and partial-birth abortion. There’s no controlling legal precedent to support that. You could just as credibly argue that the ERA would force men to wear skirts. The U.S. Supreme Court isn’t going to use the ERA to legislate laws in areas the amendment doesn’t mention, certainly not to override specific state limitations on gay marriage and abortion.

So why the noise? The opposition includes many who believe women should stay home and, if they do work, not diminish men. If you must teach, fine. Just don’t presume to be a principal. You may clerk in a Wal-Mart, just don’t expect to beat out a man to manage one.

The danger of failing to ratify the ERA is the very real risk that Republicans (and their activist judges) will tear down the thin veneer of laws that offer some protection to women – in the workplace, on athletic fields, through family medical leave and in protection against domestic violence.

We haven’t heard much this year about shared restrooms, but Sen. Jack Critcher, the president pro tem, has trotted out the old fear of women in military combat roles. In today’s war, women are already fighting and dying on the ever-shifting “front line.” The wounded, for their sacrifice, come home to a country that allows them to be treated as second-class citizens.

Don’t like it? Call Sen. Bobby Glover. Tell him the church ladies of Eagle Forum aren’t the only women with an opinion on the ERA, much less the best-informed one. Leave a message at the Senate at 682-6107. His business phone is 870-552-7150; fax 870-552-7601. His home phone is 870-552-3140. His e-mail is cnhc@juno.com.

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