SALEM — The Oregon Legislature may give voters the chance to amend the Oregon Constitution to include an Equal Rights Amendment for women.
House Joint Resolution 35 would refer the issue to voters on the May 2014 ballot. It’s scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the House Rules Committee. Proponents say it would solidify protections against gender discrimination.
“When you have your rights expressed in the Constitution, they’re as secure as they can be,” said Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo, the president of VoteERA.org, which requested the legislation.
Others say the amendment isn’t necessary and that elevating gender equality into the Oregon Constitution might make it appear more important than banning discrimination based on race, sexual orientation and other categories.
A state Supreme Court ruling already ensures strong gender equality protections, said David Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. A national Equal Rights Amendment is needed because the federal government treats sex discrimination differently than racial and other forms of discrimination, he said, but that’s not the case under state law.
The ACLU is remaining neutral on the state resolution after opposing two similar proposals introduced earlier this session. Fidanque said he’s not sure the state amendment would do anything new.
“We have argued that it’s not necessary from the standpoint of the law and the constitution,” he said. “It will provide insurance in case the Oregon Supreme Court ever changes its interpretation” of the constitution.
The state Constitution has not been amended since its passage in the 1850s to expressly protect the equality of the sexes, argues Littrell DiLorenzo.
It’s the same state Constitution that “wouldn’t let women vote. Women couldn’t own property, and women couldn’t work the same number of hours,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is to secure equality between the sexes, established in the Constitution.”
The campaign to pass a state amendment coincides with a revived national campaign to pass a federal Equal Rights Amendment. That amendment, approved by Congress in 1972, never went into effect because it fell three states short of the minimum 38 states that needed to ratify it.
In Oregon, similar legislation introduced earlier this session attracted broad support from Democrats and Republicans.
“The Oregon Constitution is very protective of individual rights, much more than the federal constitution,” said Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, who has a Ms. Poster advocating for women’s rights on her office wall. Williamson supports an Oregon amendment, which she said would be “a safeguard to ensure that Oregon’s higher standard of protection continues.”
Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, said an Oregon Equal Rights Amendment is important in light of ongoing equity issues, such as the wage gap for women.
“There are folks who say we’re already there, but we’re not there,” said Parrish, who sponsored a similar resolution earlier this session. “As a mom, I’ve got three boys, and what I’ve said before is that I want my boys to grow up and understand that women can do anything, and the little girl they sit next to in class could be their wife, their friend, their boss. It’s important to memorialize that.”
— Yuxing Zheng