Pass an Equal Rights Amendment now: Let’s enshrine fair treatment for the sexes in the law

This midpoint of the 2019 Women’s History Month calls us to look back and honor our proud legacy as the birthplace of the women’s rights movement. But as long as extreme conservatives still have a stranglehold over Washington’s political institutions — namely, the White House, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Senate, the rights of women are more endangered than they have been at any time in my life.

Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that women are protected from archaic power dynamics and societal hierarchies. How? Enact the Equal Rights Amendment in New York State. That is why during Women’s History Month, I call upon all enlightened supporters of all rights to join me in recommitting to do everything in our power to ensure constitutional equality for New Yorkers and in so doing, change the course of history.

New York has already made advances for women culminating in the monumental shift in culture we see today. Since being elected as lieutenant governor in 2014, I have seen our administration prioritize supporting and protecting women at the top of our agenda.

We have committed to improving the lives of women from a variety of policy avenues — most recently, codifying Roe v. Wade in the Reproductive Health Act and keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. Passing the country’s most generous paid family leave and a $15 minimum wage have done much to improve the financial circumstances of women. The pay gap is shrinking, but still exists, particularly for women of color.

But it’s not New York State that we are so concerned about. It is decisions out of our nation’s capital that are already eroding hard-fought gains for women. And the threat of even more is very real.

It is hard to believe that women are still not guaranteed equal rights to men in both the federal and state Constitutions. The Equal Rights Amendment is an explicit fix to that problem. Women have been fighting to enshrine the ERA in the Constitution since 1923, and now we must carry on their legacy alongside modern-day champions like my friend U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney.

What are we talking about? At its core it is simple: the basic premise that women are equal to men, and that should mean equal opportunity and equal treatment. But we are still seeing gross injustices against women that prove we are still living in a society where men hold the cards.

When we look at the #MeToo movement, we have learned that many existing laws have limitations over legal oversight and enforcement of sexual harassment cases. The same is true for cases related to pay inequity and violence against women. An ERA would change that.

We have an opportunity in New York to remain at the forefront of progressive policies, whether it’s protecting LGBTQ rights, environmental rights or labor rights, and have seen how the demands of each movement evolve over time. So we understand that achieving equality today is different than it was back when women first proposed the ERA in the 1920s. (In that era, the idea of women voting was still fairly radical!)

In our state, we take a new, generational approach to the ERA.

The new era’s ERA will ensure constitutional equality on the basis of sex. But this is not a binary issue. We will approach this through the intersectional lens of gender, sex, class, race, orientation and identity. Lack of access to affordable child care, beyond reasonable costs for in-vitro fertilization, health-care disparities, biases in the workplace and in schools — all of these are perpetuated in existing institutions and affect all marginalized groups. We see it and feel it every single day.

I believe anyone who questions the relevancy of the ERA in the 21st century is woefully out of touch.

This Women’s History Month, let’s go beyond honoring the trailblazers of the past to opening doors for the leaders of the future. Throughout our history, brave women have stood shoulder to shoulder with enlightened men in the quest for a more perfect union. We need to listen to their voices, harness that pent-up energy within our DNA as New Yorkers, and demand the change that is nearly a century overdue: enactment of the Equal Rights Amendment.

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