Bright Spots in the 2014 Elections

Devin Burghart

IREHR has documented many of the human rights setbacks in the 2014 elections. At the same time, there are some important victories to highlight. These include victories in areas of women’s rights, pro-worker legislation, and gun safety.

Women’s Rights

Despite the defeat of the pro-immigrant Measure 88 in Oregon, there were some hopeful signs for human rights in the state. Oregon voters overwhelmingly passed Measure 89, 63.8% to 36.2%, the Oregon Equal Rights for Women Initiative, which guaranteed that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.”

Other states voted to protect women’s reproductive rights. Two states rejected so-called “personhood” measures, which would have severely restricted women’s reproductive rights and would have granted legal rights to fertilized eggs. For the third federal election in a row, Colorado voters rejected “personhood,” as did nearly two-thirds of North Dakota voters. One setback for women’s reproductive freedom, Tennessee, where voters amended their state constitution to explicitly say that it does not protect abortion rights.

Pro-Worker Legislation

Spurred on by efforts around the country to organize fast-food workers and re-ignite the conversation about income inequality, four states passed minimum wage increases, from $8.50 in Arkansas by 2017, to $9.75 in Alaska by 2016. South Dakota and Nebraska also raised their minimum wage. Wisconsin voters (who re-elected staunch anti-union governor, Scott Walker) also passed a non-binding measure calling for a $10 wage. At the city level, San Francisco passed a $15 wage by 2018, and nearby Oakland passed $12.50 by 2015. It is estimated that more than 600,000 workers will benefit from these increases.

Paid sick leave was another issue that many low-wage workers have demanded. Massachusetts’ voters passed a ballot measure guaranteeing paid sick leave to an estimated 1 million workers. Three cities also passed sick-leave measures: Trenton, New Jersey; Montclair, New Jersey; and Oakland, California.

Gun Safety

The National Rifle Association and their allies lost big in Washington State, where 60% of voters passed I-594, a ballot measure extending background checks to all gun sales and transfers. The state’s voters also rejected I-591, a ballot initiative backed by the NRA, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and local Tea Party groups, which would have constrained gun safety efforts.  The NRA and their allies also failed to unseat governors in Colorado and Connecticut, who passed gun safety measures in the wake of the Sandy Hook mass shootings.

Last modified on 11.13.2014

Oregon Enshrines Gender Equality in its Constitution

The Wall Street Journal

A ballot measure seeking to add explicit gender equality to Oregon’s constitution passed comfortably Tuesday, with roughly two-thirds of the state’s voters supporting the measure, known as the Equal Rights Amendment. Oregon becomes the 23rd state to provide a guarantee of gender equality in its constitution.

The Oregon ERA, Measure 89, was opposed by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that the amendment was unnecessary because the state’s constitution already provides for equality under the law for all citizens.

On Wednesday, Becky Straus, legislative director for the ACLU of Oregon, reiterated in a statement that the organization viewed the amendment “as duplicative of protections already provided for in the state constitution.” But, she said, the ACLU supports the “value of equal rights regardless of sex,” and will “work to achieve full, lived equality for women, and every other marginalized group, in our state.”

The ACLU of Oregon has said it supports a federal ERA, which would apply to all states. A decades-long effort to add the ERA to the U.S. Constitution came close to passing in the 1970s but fell just short of ratification.

Earlier this year, a national alliance of women’s rights groups, celebrities, politicians and other prominent advocates gathered to campaign anew for a federal amendment. The group, the ERA Coalition, applauded Oregon’s amendment Wednesday, suggesting it might boost the national movement.

“We think women in all states should benefit from constitutional protection,” ERA Coalition President Jessica Neuwirth said in a statement Wednesday, “and we hope a federal ERA will soon follow to that end.”

Oregon ERA champion Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo largely financed the signature-gathering campaign to get Measure 89 on the ballot after her efforts to lobby the state Legislature to pass the amendment last year were unsuccessful. In a brief email early Wednesday morning, Ms. DiLorenzo wrote: “Thank God!”

Photo credit:  Andie Petkus

Measure 89 Would Provide Momentum for Federal ERA: Guest opinion

By Guest Columnist
Follow on Twitter
on October 18, 2014 at 1:47 PM, updated October 18, 2014 at 1:48 PM

In this March 2013 photo, Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo, founder of and chief petitioner for Oregon's Measure 89, discusses her proposal to add the equal-rights amendment to the Oregon constitution as Reps. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, and Wally Hicks, R-Grants Pass, listen during a news conference at the state Capitol in Salem. (AP Photo/Jonathan J. Cooper)

In this March 2013 photo, Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo, founder of and chief petitioner for Oregon’s Measure 89, discusses her proposal to add the equal-rights amendment to the Oregon constitution as Reps. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, and Wally Hicks, R-Grants Pass, listen during a news conference at the state Capitol in Salem. (AP Photo/Jonathan J. Cooper)

By Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo

Why is it important to vote yes on Measure 89?

(1) Women are not equal in the Oregon Constitution.

(2) Women are not equal in Oregon case law, as there is an exception for “biological differences.” Current case law exempts discriminatory laws that are “justified” by specific “biological differences” between men and women, and Measure 89 would remove that exemption.

(3) Women are not equal in the United States Constitution.

Measure 89 will establish state policy banning discrimination based on sex.  The language of Article I, Section 20 of the Oregon Constitution, written in 1857, has not changed.  Under it women could not vote, could not serve on juries, most could not own property, and women still do not have equal pay for equal work.

Measure 89 will provide momentum for women’s equality in the U.S. Constitution by engaging all those who are still working on the federal ERA to follow Oregon’s lead.  After 91 years the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has still not been added to the U.S. Constitution, even though it has been introduced in Congress every single year since 1923.  It passed in Congress once in the ’70s but fell three states short of the deadline for ratification.

The U.S. Constitution still does not adequately protect women.   “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t,” said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2011.

Four former Oregon Supreme Court justices took the extraordinary step of writing an open letter in favor of Measure 89 to debunk several arguments made by detractors. Their June 2014 letter is signed by former justices Paul De Muniz, W. Michael Gillette, Richard William Riggs and George Van Hoomissen. It made clear that women do not have the strongest protection in the Oregon Constitution. They said “… no current provision in the Constitution expressly provides those protections … Instead, the protections available to women are present as a result of case law … Measure 89 would remove the biological differences exception.”  This is why women would ultimately have full equality.

One opposition group says others’ rights could be affected by passage of an Oregon ERA. The justices stated: “The text of the ERA itself provides that nothing in it will diminish the rights of any group under any provision of the Oregon Constitution. …Oregon’s Office of Legislative Counsel has also issued opinions further supporting that nothing in ERA proposal will diminish the rights of any other group. At least 22 states have adopted equal rights amendments in their constitutions. Not one of the ‘concerns’ voiced by [detractors] has ever come to pass in those states.”

The Justices concluded with another reference to the detractors of the measure: “They are mistaken to oppose passage of the Oregon ERA. We believe that passage of the Oregon ERA will acknowledge the contributions and importance of more than 50% of our citizens by finally providing women express recognition in our state’s most important document, its constitution.”

The women who sought the right to vote needed to resort to the initiative just as we have. On five separate occasions, Oregonian editor Harvey Scott was against women gaining the right to vote even though his sister was Abigail Scott Duniway, the leader of the suffragist movement of the Pacific Northwest and the first woman to vote in Oregon in 1912.  But the women prevailed.

Measure 89 has broad bipartisan support.  In addition to the four former Oregon Supreme Court justices, supporters include former Court of Appeals Judge David Schuman, former Oregon Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer and Oregon Women Lawyers.  Supporters come from a long list of organizations, elected officials, community leaders and Oregonians from all over the state, including U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, former Congresswoman Darlene Hooley, former state Sen. Margaret Carter, YWCA, NAACP of Eugene, Oregon Business Association, League of Women Voters, Democratic Party of Oregon, Clackamas County Republican Party, AFSCME and many more.

Please join me in voting “yes” on Measure 89.

Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo is chief petitioner for Measure 89 and founder and president of

Equal Rights for Oregon Women? Voters Can Make It So!

October 15, 2014 by

era state logo

Over the next three weeks, Oregonians have a great opportunity: They can codify equal rights into the state constitution.

Starting today, the ballots being mailed out to eligible voters—all Oregon voting is by mail—include the proposed Oregon Equal Rights Amendment, Measure 89, which would add these words to the Oregon constitution:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.

Although Oregon’s constitution now reads that “no law shall be passed granting to any citizen or class of citizens privileges, or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens,” it does not specifically prohibit sex discrimination. That means women fighting employment, wage, benefit, or educational discrimination–or seeking protection against violence–don’t have the full weight of the Oregon constitution behind them. And current case law exemptsdiscriminatory laws that are “justified” by “specific biological differences” between women and men. The ERA would remove that exemption.

Some claim that Oregon’s women don’t need explicit constitutional prohibitions against discrimination, but without such protection courts and legislatures can still roll back previous gains. Four of Oregon’s former Supreme Court justices agreed on the importance of Measure 89 inan open letter [pdf], with Paul De Muniz writing,

No current  provision in the constitution expressly provides those protections. Instead, the protections available to women are present as a result of case law. …We believe that passage of the Oregon ERA will acknowledge the contributions and importance of more than 50 percent of our citizens by finally providing women express recognition in our state’s most important document, its constitution.
Groups supporting the Oregon ERA include the YWCA, Boys and Girls Club of Southern Oregon, NAACP Eugene and Springfield, Oregon Education Association, Oregon Business Association, AFSCME, SEIU, League of Women Voters, American Association for University Women, Oregon NOW and the Feminist Majority Foundation (which is organizing support on college campuses for the measure).
In addition to its legal protections, the positive symbolism of the ERA cannot be denied, as political science professor and expert on gender discrimination law Linda J. Wharton has pointed out [pdf]:

The choice of the citizens of individual states to add explicit protection against sex discrimination to their constitution affirms fundamental principles of human dignity, equality and liberty at the core of American democracy. This unequivocal commitment to gender equality has powerful implications beyond the outcomes in individual cases. … State ERAs make crystal clear that the principle of sex equality is so important that it is ‘deemed worthy of constitutional magnitude.’

If Oregon voters approve Measure 89, the state will become the 23rd with its own the ERA. For more information, see

Yes on 89!!

Sign the Petition to place the Oregon Equal Rights Amendment on the 2014 Ballot

Sign the Petition to place the Oregon Equal Rights Amendment on the 2014 Ballot

Language that will be amended into the Oregon Constitution

The Constitution of the State of Oregon is amended by creating a new section 46 to be added to and made a part of Article I, such section to read: SECTION 46.

(1) Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.

(2) The Legislative Assembly shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this section.

(3) Nothing in this section shall diminish a right otherwise available to persons under section 20 of this Article or any other provision of this Constitution.

Sign the Petition

to place the ERA on the Nov.2014 ballot

We’ve made it as easy as can be for you to sign our petition today.

Follow these 3 easy steps:

1) Print and sign the official “E-Sheet” petition

Follow Secretary of State’s laws/rules:

•must be a registered OREGON voter

•must be at least 18 years old to vote

•one signature per sheet (only sign your name)

•do not sign any petition more than one time

•do not sign a petition if you are not qualified

•plain white paper

•blue or black pen

•sign name, print name, write address, date, return address

•NOTE: To gather more sigs for us send email to:

2) Add postage

3) Mail it back to us

•Fold the petition so the lower return address shows,

then tape the edge, place a stamp and drop it in the mail!

•Or use an envelope and mail it back to the address shown on the petition. Ballot Initiative Petition ID 34

Amends Constitution: State/political subdivision shall not deny or abridge equality of rights on account of sex.

Result of “Yes” Vote: “Yes” vote amends state constitution, prohibits state and any political subdivision from denying or abridging equality of rights under the law on account of sex.

Result of “No” Vote: “No” vote retains current prohibition on laws granting/denying privileges or immunities on account of sex, unless justified by specific biological differences between men/women.

Summary: Under Article I, section 20, of the Oregon Constitution, laws granting privileges or immunities must apply equally to all persons. The Oregon Supreme Court has held that that provision prohibits laws treating people differently based on sex unless justified by specific biological differences. No current provision in constitution expressly states that prohibition. Measure amends Article I by creating new section 46, which provides that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the state or any political subdivision on account of sex. Measure authorizes legislature to enforce that provision by appropriate legislation. Measure provides that nothing in section 46 “shall diminish a right otherwise available to persons under section 20 of this Article or any other provision of this Constitution.”

Open Letter to Phyllis Schlafly From 12 Year-Old Madison Kimrey (Guest Post)

Open Letter to Phyllis Schlafly From 12 Year-Old Madison Kimrey (Guest Post)

Dear Ms. Schlafly,

I’m a teenage girl who has been reading about you quite a bit in the news lately. It seems to me that you have absolutely no idea what women of my generation are all about. I can understand that because I often deal with older people who think that their generation is superior and my generation is the worst thing ever just because we’re different. Really though, I think since you want to be all up in the public eye, it would really do you a lot of good to understand things from the perspective of one of the young women who will be taking over this country soon.

I’ve been thinking about how I can explain what feminism means to my generation in a way you might not have thought of before. I wanted to try to work from something we have in common, and it’s been kind of hard to find something I have in common with you. Then, it came to me. I bet you wear a bra.

I was reading recently about a company called Yellowberry that was started by a young woman because she took her younger sister bra shopping and her sister didn’t like any of the choices. None of the bras fit her, and she felt the selections were too sexual. So she started a line of bras so that girls would have more options. As for myself, I shop at Victoria’s Secret. It’s not because I want to be sexy or have any grand delusions of looking like one of their models. I shop there because they have different styles of bras so I can find something I think is pretty that fits me. I don’t know where you shop for your bras, but I bet you have a favorite one. I bet you have that one bra that’s comfortable and goes with just about everything. I bet the last thing you were thinking about when you bought that bra was what a man would think about it.

Well, making choices in our lives as young women is kind of like finding that favorite bra. Not all of us are going to fit into the same kind and not all of us are going to find the same style attractive. We all deserve to have as many choices as possible, and as women, we shouldn’t be judging the choices made by other women. Choosing a bra is a very personal choice and is none of anyone else’s business. We should be, as women, looking for ways we can expand the choices both for ourselves and other women, just as Megan Grassell did when she started Yellowberry. Equality doesn’t mean women will all make the same choice. It means women will be treated the same no matter what choices they make.

This brings us to the idea you have that women shouldn’t have equal pay because it will make it more difficult for them to find husbands. What you’re doing is attempting to limit my choices, and I don’t appreciate that. Let’s get one thing straight here. When I’m thinking about what kind of career I want to have, it’s a lot like shopping for a bra. I want to find something that fits me and appeals to me, and I’m not thinking about pleasing a man. Anyone who wants to be my partner in life is going to have to truly respect me, appreciate me for who I am, and honor the choices I make.

What you’re doing, Ms. Schlafly, is contributing to something very disturbing I see happening with some of the teenage girls I know. At a time in their lives when they should be free, independent, and exploring and preparing for the possibilities they have in the future, many of them are worried about getting or keeping a boyfriend. There are young women my age who are extremely smart but they hide it because they get messages from women like you that if they are too smart or successful, boys won’t like them. They get messages from women like you that pleasing a man should be their number one goal. You’re contributing to making young women uncomfortable when they go bra shopping because they’ve learned to analyze every choice based on what other people will think instead of having the freedom and confidence to choose what’s best for them.

I’m going to continue the work my mother and my grandmothers started, the work you have fought so hard against. I’m going to work to help get the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratified in my lifetime. Once this is done, it’s going to take some time to undo a lot of the damage women like you have caused. It’s going to take time for society to evolve once women finally have the equality we deserve. But I believe that my daughters will look at history and see women like you the same way I see women who tried to prevent us from getting the right to vote. I believe that bra shopping is going to be a lot easier for my daughters than it is for girls today.

Madison Kimrey

Madison Kimrey is student, actress, aspiring writer and activist who fights for LGBT rights, humane treatment of animals, women’s rights and promotes youth activism and participation in democracy. Like Her FB page NC Youth Rock HERE.

Show your admiration for Madison Kimrey by helping to get an Equal Rights Amendment into Oregon’s Constitution!

Ginsburg: Make ERA Part of the Constitution

Ginsburg: Make ERA Part of the Constitution

She’d like her granddaughters to see that gender equality is a ‘basic principle of our society.’

So call her an activist judge, but on Thursday night Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she’d like to see the Equal Rights Amendment tacked on to the Constitution.

“If I could choose an amendment to add to the Constitution, it would be the Equal Rights Amendment,” Ginsburg said to an audience at the National Press Club. The 1970s-era Equal Rights Amendment, which guarantees equal rights for women, came just three states short of passage back then and received renewed interest when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008. But still, no dice.

[READ: A Scalia Dissent Once Ruined Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Weekend]

“I think we have achieved that through legislation, but legislation can be repealed, it can be altered,” Ginsburg continued. “So I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion – that women and men are persons of equal stature – I’d like them to see that is a basic principle of our society.”

The liberal Ginsburg made a joint appearance with her high court best buddy, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, for a taping of the Kalb Report. Both justices agreed that it’s too hard to amend the Constitution, but Scalia clearly had a differing opinion on the ERA.

“You don’t want me to comment on that, do you?” Scalia said after Ginsburg made her pro-ERA remarks. “No, I don’t want you to comment,” she said, laughing.

Nikki Schwab is a reporter for U.S. News and World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at

Help Oregon get an ERA in the Oregon Constitution!

Sausalito woman walks across nation to urge passage of Equal Rights Amendment

Sausalito woman walks across nation to urge passage of Equal Rights Amendment

By Sarah Rohrs
Vallejo Times-Herald

POSTED: 03/19/2014 03:34:43 PM PDT

Carrying just one backpack and a 1980s-era rally sign, Sausalito activist Helene Swanson is using her feet to take her message across the United States — remove barriers and pass the Equal Rights Amendment.

Swanson, 50, left on her spiritual and political pilgrimage for women’s rights in San Francisco on March 8. As of Wednesday she had reached Rancho Cordova, where she planned to meet with Rep. Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova.

She intends in one year to reach the nation’s capital, where rallies will be held to bolster the ERA cause, which fell off the public radar in the early 1980s. Swanson said passing it is just as vital now as ever before.

Women need support, secured by the Constitution, to get equal wages, health care and protection from sexual harassment, particularly as cases regarding these issues come before the U.S. Supreme Court, she said.

“There are so many women out there struggling to get by and to take our work this far and not pursue it further didn’t seem right so I decided to dedicate my life to ratifying the ERA,” Swanson said.

She took to her arduous journey — walking between 15 and 20 miles a day with little money, food or provisions — in honor of her late husband William and her mother-in-law, one of the first female priests in the Episcopal Church.

When her husband died from a heart attack last year, Swanson was unsure if she should embark on the walk he had planned to accompany her on. But Swanson, a former paralegal who ran a Sausalito boat business, decided to pursue her husband’s passion for women’s rights.

“He gave his life’s blood to this work and I’m now doing this walk in his memory,” Swanson said. “He knew and understood that when two people are equals in a relationship, there’s nothing like it. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

On her journey, Swanson said she walks until given food and shelter, usually at a local Episcopal Church or from those she meets along the way. Her walk is cosponsored by CodePink, the National Organization for Women and the Occupy Foundation. She uses a cellphone and laptop to keep in touch with her supporters and set up meetings with legislators.

While in Vallejo last week, she met with staff of Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, to outline her mission. Thompson’s spokesman, Austin Vevurka, said Thompson supports the ERA, and also noted there are two House resolutions addressing the issue.

Swanson, an aspirant for the priesthood of the (Episcopal) Church of North India, is also supported by Katrina’s Dream, an organization she started that is active in prison law reform, education in Botswana and promoting the rights of Christians in India. Its name refers to Swanson’s late mother in law, the Rev. Katrina Swanson who challenged centuries of church law in the 1970s and became ordained as one of the first female priests in the Episcopal Church, according to her 2005 obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

Swanson said her mother in law noted before she died that she wished the ERA had been passed in her lifetime.

“What she wanted to do was to start an organization and bring back the ERA” to the public forefront, she said.

After years of intensive lobbying and campaigning in the 1970s, the ERA fell off the public’s radar in 1982 when an extended deadline passed for states to ratify the constitutional amendment. Efforts are now in the works to erase the deadline, and recognize the 35 states that already ratified the ERA, Swanson said.

The 15 non-ratifying states in the order Swanson will walk through them are Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

Supporters can learn more about Swanson’s cause at

Marin Independent Journal reporter Megan Hansen contributed to this report.

Contact Sarah Rohrs via email at or via Twitter at


International Women’s Day | Connecting Oregon & the World

International Women’s Day | Connecting Oregon & the World

THU, 03/06/2014 – 5:30PM – 7:00PM

World Affairs of Oregon

1200 SW Park Avenue, Third Floor

Portland, OR 97205

PHONE: 503-306-5252

See map: Google Maps

Could an Equal Rights Amendment be the next feather in the cap of Oregon’s tradition of bold global leadership? Daily we read about the violation of women’s rights across the globe: rights to education, freedom from fear, the right to participate fully in the political, economic and cultural life of neighborhood and nation – yet there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that guarantees women the same rights as men. Women in this country still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes; in The World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap report ranking 134 countries for gender parity the U.S. came in at number 23, behind Burundi (and a point lower than the previous year’s index); and the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that refuses to ratify the UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – putting us in the company of Sudan, Somalia, and Iran, three nations known for their human rights violations.

How might VoteERA – which would ratify equal rights of women in the Oregon constitution—make a difference, beyond our backyards? Currently a federal ERA is three states shy of the votes needed to become part of the U.S. Constitution – and could go a long way toward improving our human rights standing in the global community. Could it be that the old dictum to “think globally, act locally” means that a global revolution begins at home? Join us for this reception and an exciting discussion with Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo, Founder and President of in commemoration of International Women’s Day.

Presented in conjunction with the 2014 International Speaker Series – “Women Changing the World.

Link to register to attend: