ERA: "Unfinished Business," Carson Demonstrators Say

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CARSON CITY, NV - The year was 1982, and as the deadline for its ratification passed, supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment gathered outside the Nevada legislature to mourn its failure, but also celebrate its goals.

The ERA, which would have placed a guarantee of equality of rights regardless of sex into the U.S. Constitution, had been ratified by 35 states, three short of the total needed. Nevada was among the 15 who failed to pass it.

Then Reno Mayor Barbara Bennett reminded a sizeable crowd that there had been notable progress on women's issues and most who attended felt the ERA would eventually be added to the constitution.

Fast forward to the present. Tuesday, a much smaller, but still vocal gathering at the same location were again rallying in support of the ERA.

Thirty two years had passed. The ERA and the national debate it spurred seemed like ancient history.

It's likely many of those walking or driving past the rally couldn't tell you what ERA even stood for.

In fact, the proposed amendment has a long, somewhat surprising history. First proposed in 1923, it eventually attracted bipartisan support.

Republicans embraced it in significant numbers before Democrats did. Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to urge its passage and it was part of the GOP platform from 1940 until 1980.

Democrats were slower to support it. Labor unions and figures like Eleanor Roosevelt worried it would impact protective legislation.

In 1972, it was passed by Congress and sent to the states where, initially it won quick ratification.

Eventually however, it became a flash point in the culture wars. Arguments against it, including charges it would strike down privacy laws, lead to women in combat and even unisex toilets took hold and momentum flagged.

One deadline passed without enough states' approval. Congress extended it to 1982, but the moment it seemed had passed.

Some witnessing Tuesday's rally could have been excused for believing it was dead and gone.

Apparently not.

"It's unfinished business," said Janette Dean, a UNR student and one of the organizers of the event.

"Wide spread discrimination against women is still commonplace." she says noting women still haven't achieved pay equity with men.

And in fact, there is a argument behind efforts to revive it. It's called the three state strategy.

It seems the constitution is silent on deadlines or whether states can rescind ratification as five of them did.

Congress imposed a deadline on ratification and, supporters argue, it could remove it, There are a pair of bills languishing in Washington to do just that.

Then, the argument goes, if three more states said yes, the E.R.A would be more than alive. It would be part of the constitution.

It's not too late, these people say, for Nevada to be one of them.

"We want to lay the groundwork now," says Dean.

In fact, on at least two occasions in 1975 and again in 1977, one of the houses in the Nevada legislature did pass the ERA while the other failed to do so.

Time will tell, but these people say they will return when the legislature is in session to continue this battle and urge the lawmakers to do something they declined to do 30 years ago.