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ERA supporters, opponents speak out

February 23, 2000
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau
Links: HJR 42, SJR 43

JEFFERSON CITY - Amber Clifford stood on the same marble steps of the Capitol that her mother did 27 years ago. Also like her mother, she is arguing for the exact same issue.

But both Amber and her mother, Myrna, are disappointed nothing has changed.

"With the new millennium, the legislators are still talking about why the majority of the population - women - should be equal in this country," Myrna said. "That's an incredible legacy to leave to my daughter, and an incredible legacy to leave to my son."

Myrna and Amber joined about 30 other people on Wednesday in support of two bills in the Missouri General Assembly that seek to adopt the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

"Women are in the same position as they were 25 years ago," Amber said. "And that's a shameful place."

In the early 1970s, Missouri's General Assembly debated the ERA, but repeatedly failed to ratify the amendment.

Sen. Mary Bland, D-Kansas City, and Rep. Deleta Williams, D-Warrensburg, have proposed legislation to ratify the ERA -- years after the deadline for ratification set by Congress.

At the time of that 1982, the ERA fell just three states short of the number needed to ratify.

However, not all women are in favor of ERA. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, led a group of female and male legislators who held their own rally in opposition to the ERA.

"The vague language in the amendment could open up issues and allow for things opposed currently," Hartzler said. "I don't want women used to pass a liberal agenda."

Hartzler and anti-abortion leaders argue that an Equal Rights Amendment could lead to court decisions requiring government funding of abortion. And, critics charge, ERA could lead to same-sex marriages.

A court in Hawaii, which passed the ERA, has ruled that same-sex marriages should be allowed under the legislation, Hartzler said. The denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples was considered sex discrimination. Eventually the Hawaiian voters went to the polls and changed their state constitution.

Hartzler cited court decisions in Connecticut and New Mexico that taxpayers must fund abortions. The ERA requires that men and women be treated equally, thus it would be illegal to not allow women to have medical procedures, she said.

"If the ERA becomes the law of the land, it would reinstate partial birth abortions, and require taxpayers to pay for abortions," said Rep. Bill Luetkenhaus, D-Josephville, who sponsored the legislation last session that banned partial-birth abortions.

"To me it is a matter of justice," Williams said. "The ERA doesn't just benefit women, but men as well."

Williams' bill passed out of a Senate committee on Feb. 7, but has not yet reached the entire House.

Being the leading country in the free world, the fact that laws can change over the years, and having race discrimination included in the Constitution but not sex are the main reasons Williams supports ERA legislation.

"We're not creating any new rights, but simply saying the rights out there apply to both men and women," she said.

The crowd of supporters also listened to Sen. Joe Maxwell, who co-sponsors the Senate version of the bill, and Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, an ERA supporter. Rep. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, who sponsors legislation to require equal pay for all workers, also spoke.

"This is long overdue," said Oliva Bratich, a student from Truman State University in attendance. "This is a big, important issue for students, and students should speak out for it."

Wilson pepped up the crowd by reverting to her junior high cheer-leading days. She made the supporters chant back E-R-A.

"In junior high I was a cheerleader because women couldn't participate in sports," Wilson said.

Although Missouri has made some strides in passing Title Nine, which provides for equality in education and sports, the fight isn't over, she said. Wilson supports the ERA legislation because, "even if it were only language, language is still important."

Both Luetkenhaus and Hartzler agree the ERA is not as simple as some think.

Hartzler also said the time limit for requiring three-fourths of the states to ratify the amendment has lapsed.

"It's a waste of time for us to even be discussing this," she said. "It's time for women to move on."

Yet, Myrna and Amber will continue to fight for the ERA.

"If this doesn't pass, both of us will be right back here again," Amber said. "No matter how long it takes."