Raleigh, N.C. — Forty years after they opted not to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, North Carolina lawmakers are being called on to reconsider the amendment in light of a vote in Nevada.
The Nevada legislature voted last week to ratify the amendment, making it the first state to do so since 1977. The ERA would need to be ratified by two more states to reach the required 38.
North Carolina lawmakers voted several times on ratification in the 1970s. In 1977, the proposal passed the House by a slim margin, but it never passed both chambers.
Rep. Carla Cunningham, D-Mecklenburg, said Monday that the amendment remains as important as ever.
"How long will we dismiss the constitutional rights of women in North Carolina and the women across this nation?" Cunningham asked at a news conference.
She is the sponsor of House Bill 102, which would ratify the amendment. Its companion, Senate Bill 85, is sponsored by Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham.
Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, said women are still paid less than men, averaging 85 cents to the dollar for comparable work, with women of color facing a far larger gap. Latina women make just 48 cents to the dollar.
"On the average, because of the wage gap, women in North Carolina lose $9 billion a year," Fisher said. "The ERA would make this 100 percent illegal. This constitutional amendment would protect women and their families and give them a well-deserved brighter financial future."
Rep. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, said the rise in women's activism in recent years – most recently, the women's marches around the country in January – is evidence that the time is ripe to try the amendment again.
"We cannot say, 'Oh, it’s too long ago,' or 'We tried this before.' I think we have to continue to push and knock at the door and be persistent until our rights are recognized," Bryant said.
Other backers said the ERA would improve justice for victims of rape and would ensure that the progress women have made toward equality with men cannot be erased.
"I would like for North Carolina to at least get in front of this amendment instead of being behind, like they were behind the Nineteenth," Bryant said, referring to the amendment that gave women the right to vote.
That amendment was ratified in 1920, but North Carolina didn’t pass it until 1971, making it the second-to-last state to do so. Mississippi was the last in 1984.
The federal law that sent out the ERA the states for ratification included a clause that set a deadline of 1979, later extended by Congress to 1982. Supporters say that, if the amendment can win ratification in two more states, Congress could change the deadline again.
"How are you going to put a deadline on someone’s freedom and someone’s equality? Of course we’re not going to put a deadline on that," said ERA-North Carolina co-president Marena Grohl.
"Nothing stays the same nowhere, not even up here in the North Carolina General Assembly. Everything changes. It just takes time. But you’ve got to put in the time, and you’ve got to grind," said Cunningham. "When the women marched on Washington, they were sending a message."