What the Equal Rights Amendment means for Delaware - Technical.ly Delaware

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Jan. 17, 2019 10:30 am

What the Equal Rights Amendment means for Delaware

The failed dream of the Women's Liberation Movement is now part of the State Constitution, 48 years after the state ratified the Federal amendment.

At the 150th Delaware General Assembly's first day, on Jan. 8, 2019.

(Photo by Holly Quinn)

Yesterday’s affirmative vote on the Delaware Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) came complete with a Bring Your Daughter to Legislative Hall” event.

If the current, slightly retro, buzz about the Delaware ERA seems to have come out of nowhere, it’s probably because House Bill 1, as it’s technically known, was introduced by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst (D) in mid-December.

The ERA has a much longer and more involved past that goes back nearly 100 years. The crowning piece of legislation for the Women’s Liberation Movement, the proposed 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1972 read, simply, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.”

If you know your U.S. history, you know the ERA failed. The United States, to this day, has no Constitutional amendment that specifically protects sexual equality beyond the voting booth.

In 1972, Delaware was the third state of 35 to ratify the Federal ERA, three states short of what was needed to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Its failure was stoked by fears that women would become soldiers, that there would be no legal protections for women who are sexually assaulted (it apparently didn’t occur to many people back then that the law could protect sexually assaulted men), and that it would lead to same sex marriage.

Now, Americans are worried that progress could be rolled back without the ERA. Activists have been pushing to bring it back to life since the 2016 election and the advancement of the #MeToo movement.

It’s in this context that the push to pass a Delaware ERA came about, as Delaware, unlike the other states that ratified the Federal ERA in the 1970s, had never amended the state constitution to include it.

With the passage of the ERA, the Delaware Bill of Rights will now have 21 amendments, with the following added:

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§ 21. Equal Rights.

Section 21. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.

But what does it mean? Will it change the day-to-day for Delaware women and gender non-conforming people?

In reality, probably not. The amendment doesn’t touch on specific issues like reproductive rights, maternity leave or childcare. And, as many will point out, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is applied to sex discrimination today, even if it didn’t when it took effect in 1968.

What the return of the ERA push does is make a statement. It rejects not only sexism, but the white supremacy that initially drove much of the anti-ERA movement.

Nearly 50 years after failing to pass, the Federal ERA has gotten two more ratifications, despite missing its 1982 deadline to enter the U.S. Constitution. Nevada ratified in 2017, Illinois in 2018. Virginia is working on becoming the 38th state to ratify it.

With this amendment, Delaware is playing its part in that momentum.

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