Willamette Week Endorses Oregon ERA Ballot Measure 89

Measure 89

Equal Rights Amendment: YES

It has been 41 years since Oregon lawmakers ratified the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The idea of making it explicit that a person’s sex should be no barrier to civil freedoms had been around since 1923 but gained strength in the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and ’70s.

It took until 1972 for Congress to send the amendment to states for approval. But the amendment fell three states short of the three-fourths it needed and died amid the growing conservative backlash of the Reagan years.

Since then, state and federal laws have banned virtually all sex discrimination. But chronic inequities—such as difference in pay between men and women—are not problems you solve by amending the U.S. Constitution.

That’s why Measure 89, which would inscribe the provisions of the Equal Rights Amendment in the state constitution, has more nostalgic value than anything else.

Measure 89’s sponsor, Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo, makes only a theoretical case that amending the state constitution would clear away lingering legal questions that, as far as we can tell, have had no meaningful consequences.

We kept hearing that many liberal or progressive groups disliked the measure but didn’t have the courage to speak out against it.

The only group that has is the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which argues the amendment is unnecessary and could undermine rights aimed at prohibiting other kinds of discrimination.

That last argument feels pretty speculative. Instead, consider this measure a long-overdue statement about civil rights and equality that we can send to the courts, and to future Legislatures, governors and generations. On balance, we think it’s better late than never that Oregon enshrines in its constitution a clarity we long ago declared should be the law for all.