I was excited last week to hear that our legislators in St. Paul have introduced a bill proposing an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution providing equal rights for women under the law.
The MN ERA bill, HF165 and SF62, would allow the question of equal treatment for women to be put before the voters in 2016. Wouldn’t it be great if Minnesota could join with at least 20 other states in our union who have already guaranteed equal treatment between men and women in their states?!
You might ask: “Don’t we already have an equal rights amendment?” According to polls, some 70 percent of Americans think that women are already protected in the Constitution. This is simply not true. Neither the U.S. Constitution nor the Minnesota Constitution contains an equal rights amendment.
“So what?” you might ask.
Well, as a matter of principle, the Minnesota Constitution embodies the core values of the State of Minnesota, and women and men should be treated equally under our laws. As a matter of practice, even with the laws that have been passed at both the federal and state levels to address discrimination and violence, women are still experiencing legal discrimination in the workplace and are subject to violence based on their gender. An equal rights amendment in the Minnesota Constitution would provide a legal basis to fight this discrimination. And unlike legislation, the Constitution can’t be amended through the legislative process alone. You need the voters to make a change.
Last year the Minnesota Legislature made great strides passing portions of the Women’s Economic Security Act, joining other states in passing an increase in the minimum wage, providing some protections for women employees who happen to be pregnant or mothers, and allowing employees to use personal and family leave to obtain services for stalking and domestic violence. But these rights are not guaranteed by our constitution. They can be taken away in a single legislative session. An equal rights amendment to the Minnesota Constitution is a statement of principle that Minnesotans believe women and men should be treated equally under the law, and those rights are not dependent on the current legislative initiatives.
With women still earning only 78 cents to the male dollar, and women still losing their jobs when they become pregnant, and women still facing sexual harassment in the workplace, a Minnesota equal rights amendment is sorely needed. Our families depend on the income generated by women to meet the financial demands of life in our economy. We all benefit when women are allowed to participate to their fullest potential and are rewarded on an equal basis. Let’s make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender.
As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said: “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.” While he was talking about the U.S. Constitution, the same could be said of our Minnesota Constitution. However, thanks to your legislators, we in Minnesota have the opportunity to correct this inequity. We can prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender as a matter of principle. Yes, the bill has to go through committees, and yes, the bill has to be passed by both houses of the Minnesota Legislature, but then the voters get to decide.
The full text of the proposed amendment is “Equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied on account of gender.” This is the exact language that would be added to the Minnesota Constitution and would appear on your ballot in 2016. It’s not scary language, it’s not confrontational language, it’s not progressive language, it’s not conservative language, it is fair language. And in Minnesota, we believe in a fair shot at prosperity and happiness for all people.
If you, like me, are interested in seeing this amendment on your ballot in 2016, give your Minnesota state legislators a call and ask them to bring the legislation to a vote by the people of Minnesota. It’s time for our Constitution to match our principles.