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Smarter than a Second Grader

Updated: Oct 2, 2022

I've been thinking about the Equal Rights Amendment for the past 50 years.

The highlight of my second-grade year was when a woman from the American Cancer Society brought in two preserved human lungs, one was healthy – one was damaged by smoking. The smoking lung was grey and gross. The non-smoking lung was pristine and pink, although I suspect it would have looked healthier if it was still inside a body.

The point was to scare us away from cigarettes. In my case, it worked. I’ve never smoked.

My teachers and the Cancer Society lady knew their audience. Second-graders are eager learners. That’s probably why our teachers gave us the Weekly Reader, the small weekly newspaper with interesting news stories for eight-year-olds to soak up.

In second grade, I read in the Weekly Reader that the United States Congress was proposing an amendment to the US Constitution to guarantee that women and men would have equal protection under the law. I remember thinking, “Well, duh.”

In 1972, even eight-year-old Tracy knew it was obvious that men and women are equal. Sure, I was a politically precocious kid – I watched the Watergate hearings with my parents – but the Equal Rights Amendment was a no-brainer to every second grader back then.

Eight-year-old Tracy would be disappointed to learn that 50 years later, there is still no Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution.

She might take up smoking. She’s already taken up drinking.

A brief history of the ERA: in 1972, Congress passed the ERA with strong bipartisan support, after which it had to be ratified by three-quarters (38) of the states within in seven years (1979), to become an amendment to the Constitution. Congress extended that deadline to 1982, but by then only 35 states had ratified it.

That deadline was arbitrary. Article V of the Constitution, which regulates amendments, doesn’t require time limits for ratification. Congress has complete control over any deadlines. They aren’t required to make them and if they do, they can extend or remove them.

After 1982, the battle for the ERA’s ratification died out. It was revived in 2017, when Nevada ratified it, followed by Illinois in 2018 and Virginia in 2020. This brings the number of ratifying states to 38.

Woo hoo! Women and men have equal protection in the Constitution! Remember the parade we had to celebrate?

You don’t, because the 1982 deadline is still in place, and the ERA isn’t officially an amendment.

But Congress has the power to remove that arbitrary deadline. In March of 2021, the House voted to do just that. It wasn’t a bipartisan vote; Democrats voted for removal and most Republicans voted against.

One of the 204 House Republicans who voted against removing the deadline allowing the ERA to become an amendment, was our own Lee Zeldin. As usual, he votes in lockstep with his party.

I wonder if he even read the amendment. It states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on the account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

That’s it. That’s the amendment.

Second-graders today are way smarter than I was. Eight-year-old Tracy would never be able to post a story on Instagram. Hell, 58-year-old Tracy can’t post a story on Instagram.

I’m sure if Mr. Zeldin asked every second-grader in his district if women and men deserve equal protection under the law, they would say, “Well, duh.”

It’s a good thing second-graders can’t vote for Governor. They would probably want someone who’s smarter than they are to run our state.

That’s not Mr. Zeldin.

Now the resolution to remove the deadline to ratify the ERA will go to the Senate, which needs to overcome the filibuster, the 60-vote threshold, to pass.

We’ve come a long way, baby. Do we need the ERA anymore?

Since 1972, many laws have been enacted to prevent sex discrimination in schools and places of employment. Also, many anti-discriminatory rights have been conferred by the courts. But even with these laws, women in the United States today are still fighting for equal pay and maternal healthcare, not to mention abortion access.

The ERA would give permanent protection against laws that discriminate on the account of sex. So, if political whims change, the ERA would require a stricter standard to remove those laws or rights.

It's a simple concept, guaranteeing equal rights under the Constitution. It’s so simple that 85% of the member nations of the United Nations have adopted similar language in their governing documents.

It’s so simple that many of your friends probably believe the Constitution already provides that guarantee. And once you told your friends that the Constitution doesn’t, most of your friends, no matter their party, would support Congress enacting it.

Unfortunately, given the partisanship in the Senate right now, if brought up for a vote, the resolution to remove the deadline and enact the ERA probably won’t pass. Our Republican Senators aren’t as smart as second-graders. Second-graders know how to compromise. They do it every day at recess. Republican Senators are obstructionist toddlers.

Every second-grader knows smoking is bad. They also know that amending the Constitution to provide equal protection of rights on the basis of sex is a simple thing to do.

The Senate should vote to remove the deadline.

Let’s not disappoint any more second-graders.

Published in The East Hampton Press on Jun23, 2022.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra for Unsplash.

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