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The National Organization for Women and the ERA

The largest feminist organization in the United States is trying to get the equal rights amendment passed.

The National Organization for Women is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to educate the public about feminism and women’s rights as well as carry out litigation. NOW is the biggest nonprofit feminist organization in the United States with the main office in Washington D.C. as well as affiliates all over the world. The Arizona chapter is focused on racial justice, ending violence against women, economic equality, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and getting the equal rights amendment passed in Arizona.

David Ayodele, the PAC chair for the Arizona chapter of NOW, planned to just attend the Women’s March in 2017. Eventually, it snowballed to him becoming an officer to one of the biggest organizations seeking to change policies surrounding justice and equality for women.

Ayodele became frustrated by events in 2016 and decided he wanted to do something about it.

“A lot of feminist issues are not controversial,” he says. He argues that the only thing that could be considered remotely controversial is abortion and to him, even that is an unquestionable right.  As the PAC chair, he has the opportunity to evaluate political candidates for an endorsement from NOW as well as organize events to promote certain candidates.

NOW started off as an African Suffrage movement in the early ’60s and has snowballed to what it is today. Their focus right now is getting the ERA passed in Arizona because only one more state needs to pass it to get it introduced on a federal platform.

The equal rights amendment has been around since 1921 and still hasn’t been ratified as a constitutional amendment. The ERA makes sure that everyone has equal rights regardless of their sex. There currently isn’t anything like that in the Federal Constitution.

There are two ways to get an amendment to the Constitution.

It can be proposed with either a two-thirds majority vote in the house of representatives and in the Senate or it can be proposed with a constitutional convention. All 27amendment to the constitution have been proposed with a majority vote in Congress. After that, three-fourths of the states have to ratify it as well (38 out of 50). It can either be passed in congress first and then sent to the states or first passed in the states and then sent to Congress. Right now, 37 states have ratified the ERA – only one more state is needed for the ERA to be passed off to Congress.

Those who question the ERA ask why there needs to be a separate clause specifying no one can discriminate against sex when there are rights plainly laid out in the constitution about voting and employer discrimination. The reason is that when a court looks at a case of discrimination, it is evaluated on different levels based on the legal protection of those being discriminated against.

The first layer and the most minimally protected is called “rational relation.”

A law needs a rational reason in its defense – it doesn’t have to be a particularly good reason, but it must be a rational reason. Dianne Post, a lawyer who has been working to get the ERA ratified for 45 years, gives an example of a case that would be examined under rational relation. If a law was passed that said that left-handed people could only park on the left side of the street because that way they would get out of the car on the sidewalk side, it would be scrutinized under “rational relation” because there are no laws protecting the rights of left-handed people. It doesn’t matter that the law makes no real sense – there was a rational reason behind this law.

“Intermediate scrutiny” is the next layer on the list.

This is utilized when there are some rights protecting this group and there has to have a very good reason for passing this law. For example, there was once a law that said bartenders could only be female if her husband or father owned the bar. The reasoning behind this is because she would be less likely to be sexually harassed if her husband or father was the owner. Of course, there was no law protecting the waitresses. But it didn’t matter. There was a pretty good defense for this law.

The last and most protected level is “strict scrutiny.”

This is used when there is a group that is heavily protected under the constitution – such as race. There must be an extremely good reason for passing this law, and even then, the law cannot take that group’s constitutional rights away.

Right now, sex falls under the second layer. If the ERA is passed, it will fall under the third layer, making it extremely difficult for any law to be passed that discriminates against sex. The idea that a law can be passed that discriminates against sex is terrifying and the ERA needs to be passed so sex can be moved up to protected status under the constitution.

National Organization for Women
Image via National Organization for Women

The Arizona chapter of NOW is working hard to get it passed in Arizona, but because of political ideology, getting it passed has been a long road. We as a community need to band together and show the state legislator that we are not going to go away and the ERA is a priority for its citizens. We need to show that we passionate about our rights and that we will do whatever it takes to pass an amendment that forbids anyone for discriminating based on sex.

David Ayodele said, “It’s a sad staate of affairs when [violence against women] is a controversy.” Let’s make sure it never is one again.

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Jen Garg is a student at Arizona State University studying Journalism and...