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The Fight To Pass The Equal Rights Amendment Comes To Florida

Former Illinois Republican Rep. Steve Andersson talks about the history of the Equal Rights Amendment at a Athena Society luncheon in Tampa.
Ashley Lisenby | WUSF
Former Illinois Republican Rep. Steve Andersson talks about the history of the Equal Rights Amendment at a Athena Society luncheon in Tampa.

Florida could become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment if resolutions by Democratic state lawmakers are approved.

Strides to add the amendment to the Constitution date back to 1923. Thirty-five states approved the amendments in the 1970s and 80s. Nevada was the 36th state to pass a resolution in 2017 and Illinois did the same the following year. At least 38 states must ratify the amendment before it can be added to the Constitution.

State Senate Minority Leader Sen. Audrey Gibson is the sponsor of the Senate resolution (SCR 266) to codify gender equality in the Constitution. Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph sponsors theresolution in the House (HCR209).

Supporters of the amendment say it establishes gender equality in areas such as employment and pay.

“If we are truly believers in equality, then all men and women are equal under the law and they should be treated equally in their everyday lives,” Gibson said in a statement to WUSF on Thursday.

She added, “The resolution...cannot pass if it’s not filed.”

But that may not happen without the help of Republican lawmakers who hold the majority in both chambers of the Florida Legislature.

Republicans in Illinois who broke rank with others in their party helped approve the resolution. Former Republican Illinois Rep. Steve Andersson was one of those people who voted in favor of the ERA there.

Andersson spoke to members of the women’s group the Athena Society at a luncheon in Tampa about how the amendment could pass in Florida with help from Republicans by clarifying the facts of the resolution and building trust.

Some opponents believe that the amendment gives a free pass to abortion and LGBTQ-friendly policies.

The amendment has found some its biggest critics in members of the Eagle Forum who argue the wording of the resolution is unclear.

“The ERA does not put women in the Constitution, it puts sex in the Constitution and sex has a lot of different definitions today than it did in the 1970s,” the group’s Chairman Anne Schlafly Cori said in a statement posted to the organization’s website.

“The idea that a couple of states can tag on to votes that were taken 50 years ago is a fraud and a cheat on our constitutional system,” she added.

Andersson said if Florida ratified the amendment, the next fight would be to protect it from being dismantled at the federal level.

“The opponents will say it [the ERA] long since expired, the ability to do this,” Andersson said referring to a timeline Congress set decades ago for states to approve the amendment.

He believes there is no statute of limitations on states voting on ERA resolutions because the deadline was set by Congress then and is not in the original language of the amendment itself.

This is what theNational Constitution Center's blog has to say on the subject of the deadline:

The current ERA ratification supporters believe Congress would have the power to decide if the amendment can be ratified today under a “three-state proposal” that would see Nevada (which also voted in 2017 to approve ratification), Illinois and a third state get the vote total to 38 states. They also believe the 27th Amendment’s long-delayed ratification rejects the viability of deadlines imposed by Congress on ratification. (There is also an argument that the ERA deadline’s placement in its preamble doesn't make it as applicable as to other amendments.)

Andersson is going to Arizona next, another state with ERA resolutions in play. The amendment recently failed in Virginia and Arkansas.

“But the whole south, quite frankly, is ripe for this [amendment] and you’re seeing it in Georgia. You’re seeing it North Carolina, South Carolina,” Andersson said. “So the movement is there. This has been really reinvigorated by the Me Too Movement, by the Women’s March movements, where there is a real energy behind this that people have kind of forgotten about over the years.”

Ashley Lisenby is a general assignment reporter at WUSF Public Media. She covered racial and economic disparity at St. Louis Public Radio before moving to Tampa in 2019.