It all came down to one 24-year-old Tennessee legislator named Harry Burn. It was Aug. 18, 1920. Thirty-five of the necessary 36 states had ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would give women the right to vote. It had only taken 144 years! Burn had voted with the anti-suffrage forces up to that time. But his mother had urged him to vote for the amendment. When the time came to cast his vote, he saw that if he voted with the anti-suffrage crowd the vote would be tied 48-48. He chose to vote as his mother had urged him.
And so on that hot, muggy summer day 91 years ago, Tennessee became the 36th and deciding state to ratify. On Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution became law, and women could vote in the fall elections, including the presidential election. Who was elected president that year? Warren G. Harding, a Republican!
The Equal Rights Amendment was passed by the U.S. Senate and then the House of Representatives in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification. The ERA barreled out of Congress, getting 22 of the necessary 38 state ratifications in the first year. But the pace slowed as opposition began to organize - only eight ratifications in 1973, three in 1974, one in 1975, and none in 1976.
Arguments by ERA opponents such as Phyllis Schlafly, right-wing leader of the Eagle Forum/STOP ERA, played on the same fears that had generated female opposition to a woman's right to vote, claiming that the ERA would deny a woman's right to be supported by her husband, women would be sent into combat, and abortion and homosexual marriages would be upheld. Businesses opposed a measure they believed would cost them money - as in equal pay for equal work. Opposition was also organized by fundamentalist religious groups suggesting that a woman should "obey" her husband and that a woman's place was in the home. Thirty-five of the required 38 states had ratified the ERA prior to the deadline. However, the ratification deadline passed without getting those last three states.
On June 20, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out an employment discrimination class-action suit against Wal-Mart that had sought billions of dollars on behalf of as many as 1.5 million of its female workers. The suit claimed that Wal-Mart's policies and practices had led to countless discriminatory decisions over pay and promotions.
The court divided 5 to 4 along ideological lines on the basic question in the case - whether the suit satisfied a requirement of the class-action rules that "there are questions of law or fact common to the class" of female employees. Duh... they were all female! But wait a minute, in an opinion written earlier this year that appeared in the "California Lawyer," Justice Scalia stated that women are not protected by the U.S. Constitution against discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. He went further to suggest that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment does not apply to women. In 2011 women still make 77 cents compared to their male counterparts $1 for the same work!
I don't know how much clearer it can be. How and why do women put up with this, especially given the fact that there are more of them registered to vote than their male counterparts? You want to talk about a "wedge" issue for the 2012 elections. Well... this is it.
The current ERA Amendment that has been introduced in Congress reads as follows: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
Is today the dawn of a new ERA?
• Jon Beydler is a 33-year Valley resident and the former mayor of Fountain Hills who now lives in Chandler