North Carolina could make history by ratifying ERA
Senators Valerie Foushee, Natasha Marcus and Terry Van Duyn, Guest columnists
Over 200 women came to Raleigh on Tuesday. They came all the way from Dare County in the East, and Clay County in the West. There were young women, older women, black women, white women, and hispanic women.
They came from rural communities, urban communities, and suburban communities. They travelled all that way to deliver a bold proposal for their legislators, one that will improve the economy of North Carolina, one that will improve the plight of families across our state. They came to demand equal rights for women. They came to demand the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Shockingly, although women are the bedrock of our families and communities, they are not equal under the law. The Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause has been used to protect women’s rights, but that protection is anything but air-tight. Justice Scalia famously opposed any interpretation of the equal-protection clause that would have prohibited sex discrimination.
What does that mean for women? It means that women can be, and are, paid less than men. It means that women are denied the money they’ve earned so they can take care of their families, making sure they have a roof over their heads, food on their tables and shoes on their children’s feet.
The bottom line: without explicit language in the constitution, women’s rights are subject to interpretation, creating a gap between how men and women are treated under the law. The ERA would fill that gap.
Without explicit language in the constitution, women’s rights are subject to interpretation, creating a gap between how men and women are treated. The ERA would fill that gap.
How big is that gap? In 2018, The North Carolina Council for Women and Youth Involvement published The Status of Women in North Carolina: Employment & Earnings report. Their statistics highlighted what all of us know: women earn less than men. In spite of the fact they have higher levels of education, women are underpaid. White women make 80 percent of what white men earn. Black and American Indian women earn 62 percent of what white men earn. And most startling of all, Hispanic women earn only 49 percent compared to white men! That is just the wage gap. When you factor in other forms of compensation, like insurance and benefits, the gap is even greater. That means women retire with significantly less income than men.
What does the gap mean to North Carolina families? Over a lifetime, as that difference compounds year after year, it means families have millions of dollars less to live on solely because of discrimination.
What does it mean to North Carolina? If all working women in North Carolina were paid the same as comparable men, we would reduce the poverty rate among working women by more than half! The increase would amount to $15.6 billion, equivalent to a 3 percent increase in the state’s GDP.
A vote to ratify the ERA would make North Carolina more attractive for business investment, given that many corporations place a high priority on diversity and inclusion and recognize the critical role that women play in their organizations.
The ERA would provide a constitutional guarantee that protects all our rights and helps all our families. Only one more state legislature is needed to ratify the ERA. North Carolina can make history by being the 38th and final state needed for ratification. Every single Democratic Senator and Representative has already signed onto the bill. It is time to ratify the ERA.
Signed, Sen. Valerie Foushee (D-Orange); Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) and Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe).
As published in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Saturday, March 9th, 2019