By Jim Bleyer
Only 1,203 miles separate Seneca Falls, NY from Tallahassee. Philosophically they have been light years apart —until now.
The Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis could make history that would make the U. S. birthplace of the women’s rights movement proud.
Thirty-seven states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment—one short of the required three-quarters for passage. That final state could be Florida.
The ERA is a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex.
There are two bills in the Florida Legislature—HCR 209 sponsored by Representative Dotie Joseph and SCR 266 sponsored by Senator Audrey Gibson—to adopt the ERA.
A press conference in Tallahassee is scheduled at 12:30 p.m., Tuesday to promote its passage.
The effort to put the ERA over the top is bipartisan.
Former Illinois Congressman Steve Andersson, a Republican, has been stumping the country, promoting passage of the amendment in states that have yet to ratify. He was in Tampa Friday addressing the Athena Club, formed in 1976 with ERA passage as a main goal.
“The Me Too movement and Women’s March,” regalvanized the issue, “ the engaging Andersson told Tampa Bay Beat. “Republicans used to be pro-ERA but the influence of the religious right changed all that. This issue has been filled with false narratives such as the proliferation of unisex bathrooms. It’s time to get this resolved. Republicans can be heroes again.”
Andersson noted that remaining target states bleed red or purple, noting all the low hanging fruit has signed on.
Former Tampa City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena, highly respected for her continued involvement in helping shape public policy after leaving political office, believes DeSantis may be amenable to favoring the amendment. She noted that his concern for the environment and pro-cannabis stances show his flexibility.
Saul-Sena, a Democrat, said the national perception of Florida would fly off the charts if the state put the ERA over the top. Then she explained why the amendment is still needed.
“Though laws like Title IX and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 are meant to protect women, these legislative endeavors do not protect everyone, they can be rolled back by a simple congressional vote, and they do not provide the firm, lasting protection of a constitutional amendment,” Saul-Sena explained.
Athena President Betty Castor, a former Florida Commissioner of Education and President of the University of South Florida, asserted “We’re not competing with Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and/or Arizona for the honor of putting it ‘over the top,’ but we believe Florida would make a statement about equality, fairness, and the importance of economic opportunity if we were to become the state that finally gets it done.”
Originally the ERA enjoyed wide, bipartisan support including that of both major political parties, both houses of Congress, and Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter. The schism brought by anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly finally healed and last year, Illinois became the 37th state to adopt the ERA.
The United States ranks 20th of developed nations in the just-published Glass Ceiling Index in The Economist magazine.