[St. Paul, MN, January 25, 2019]
At a historic hearing Thursday, February 24th, the House Government Operations Committee voted to pass out of committee the Minnesota Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) (HF13 authored by Representative Mary Kunesh-Podein) and the Resolution to Congress to remove the deadline on the national ERA (HF71 authored by Representative Rena Moran). This is the first time the ERA has been heard and moved forward in the House since 1983.
The state amendment would simply add “Equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied on account of gender” to Minnesota’s Constitution. “Having these thirteen words on the ballot will give Minnesotans the opportunity to choose whether or not they want to live in a state where all people are equal under the law,” said M. Kathleen Murphy, Vice-President of ERA Minnesota and founder of the CAFE Coalition.
“Our Constitution is the truest and most lasting statement of our fundamental values, and it is not only fitting but crucial that equality for all be enshrined there. It is only by these means that we can live up to our rhetoric and build the future all of our children deserve,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo during her testimony.
Lisa Stratton, a legal expert in gender discrimination, testified that enshrining gender equality in Minnesota’s Constitution would make it clear to the courts that they need to apply the highest level of scrutiny to laws that create or reinforce gender disparities. It would also make clear that such laws must be justified by a compelling state interest and the law under review must be found to be necessary. This standard would place gender equality on the same footing as racial and religious equality.
Adding an equal protection clause to the Constitution is another step forward in Minnesota’s long journey towards becoming a place that embraces the diversity and uniqueness of its people. As Jettie Ann Hill, a 26-year state employee and member of the MN Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) said, “Now is the time for Minnesota to begin closing the gap and recognizing the intersection between race and gender by adding the ERA to the state Constitution.”
The amendment would have a positive benefit to Minnesota’s economy and help to reduce the pay gap between men and women. Hill continued, “It is well documented that Black, Latino, American Indian, and other women of color in Minnesota face complex economic inequalities, and more training and education does not lead to the same economic payoff as men.”
Some of the most powerful testimony was given by MatasCastillo who spoke to her experience as a survivor of sexual assault in the military and to being recognized as the first woman to hold positions traditionally held by men.
“I was proud to blaze a trail that others could follow, but if I am honest, I never asked to serve as an exemplar of my gender, but only to serve. They call that a privilege, but it would be a far greater privilege to live in a world where women did not need to prove the worth of their gender to earn the respect given as a matter of course to men.”
Pheng Thao, the Statewide Coordinator for Men and Masculine Folks Network, spoke to the amendment’s ability to help change our culture for the better, highlighting the tragic fact that one in three women and girls in Minnesota experience gender violence in their lifetime. Thao went on to say, “We live in a culture where we are still teaching our boys and young men rigid ideas about manhood – dominant, strong-willed, emotionless – and that women and girls are there to serve their needs.”
Other people testifying in favor of the legislation were Rubén Vázquez, Vice-President of Racial Justice and Public Policy for the YWCA and Debra Fitzpatrick, Co-director of the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. “I urge this committee, this Legislature, this Governor, this state, to stop talking about how unfair inequality based on sex or gender is and start taking some action. Not only for the sake of my children, but for the sake of our younger generation, I ask you to approve H.F. 13. Let’s truly make this a better One Minnesota!” said Vázquez.
“Ongoing pay inequities between men and women in the state are hurting our state and its families. Increasingly Minnesota women are the primary breadwinner in their family and overtime their earnings have become an instrumental part of economic stability for most families. Yet, pay inequities persist in our state at every stage of a women’s career; short-changing them and in many cases children as well” said Fitzpatrick.
The bill was referred to the Ways and Means committee and is expected to come to the full House floor for a vote later this session. “We expect the amendment to pass the House this year,” said Allison. “The real question is whether the Senate is going to give Minnesotans the opportunity to decide if everyone in our state should have the same rights.”
“Some people make the mistake of thinking the amendment is a political issue related to reproductive rights,” said Murphy, referring to an amendment that was offered and then withdrawn. “It is not. In Minnesota the issue is settled law, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a constitutional ruling in 1995 in Doe vs. Gomez that the state cannot discriminate against a legal service when offering subsidies to pregnancy-related services for low-income women.”
The committee also voted unanimously on the second bill, a resolution memorializing Congress to remove the deadline on the federal ERA (HF71) which was then referred to the full House Chamber. Although Minnesota was the twenty-sixth state to ratify the federal ERA in 1973, the overall effort fell short of the 3/4 states necessary to add it to the constitution due to an arbitrary deadline imposed on it. Congress has the power to remove that deadline or to simply extend it. In the past two years two states, Nevada then Illinois, ratified the federal ERA, leaving just one more state needed to reach the necessary 38 states. Virginia is currently close of becoming the 38th and final state needed to ratify the federal ERA amendment with other states closely on its heels vying for that honor. Testifying in favor of the resolution were former Minnesota state legislator and founder of ERA Minnesota Betty Folliard and members of the public, Rosemary Rocco (former Vice President of ERA Minnesota) and Amy Caucutt of Rochester, Minnesota.
ERA Minnesota is a coalition of thousands of activists and organizations from every corner of the state dedicated to embedding an Equal Rights Amendment into our state and national constitutions to ensure that all citizens are protected from discrimination on the basis of gender.