Editorial | 'Twas a great victory! Well, not really

Editorial | 'Twas a great victory! Well, not really

The Illinois Senate's action on the Equal Rights Amendment is just a symbolic gesture in an election year.

Better late than never is a common refrain, one that refers doing the right thing in a not-quite-timely manner.

But missing a deadline by 36 years? That's a different story altogether.

Nonetheless, the Illinois Senate last week ratified the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The measure now goes to the House.

If approved by both bodies, Illinois would become the 37th state to ratify the proposal.

Unfortunately, the deadline for passing the ERA expired in 1982, a legal reality that exposes the legislative action as little more than a symbolic effort to appease interest groups still fighting the last war.

But the Senate action is symbolic in more ways than one. It also demonstrates the penchant of our elected officials to focus on symbolic issues of little importance, while studiously ignoring those that matter greatly, including the state's destitute financial status and lagging economy.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution outlines the process by which that document can be amended. To do so requires either congressional action or an application by two-thirds of the states to call a constitutional convention to propose changes. Both options require proposed amendments to be approved by three-fourths of the states.

To date, the U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times.

Congress voted by the required two-thirds majority to send the ERA to the states in 1972, attaching the traditional seven-year deadline for ratification. After the measure failed to attract sufficient support during that period, Congress extended the deadline by three years, to 1982.

Thirty-five states approved the measure between 1972 and 1979. No more approved the measure during the extra three years Congress added to the measure. Indeed, four states rescinded their ratification.

So what is Illinois doing jumping on the ERA bandwagon nearly four decades later?

Well, this is an election year, and all legislative candidates are scratching for as many votes as they can get.

At the same time, male legislators concerned about the sexual harassment conflagration want to be seen as being on the right side of women's issues.

So what better way to demonstrate their nobility than by approving a measure of little substantive value but great voter appeal in certain quarters.

Perhaps that's why there was no debate on the issue. None of the 55 senators who voted on the issue (it was approved 43-12) had any thoughts to share with the public about the measure that purports to amend this country's founding document. That silence is deafening.

As for equal rights for all, that's hardly in dispute. Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment mandates "equal protection of the law" for all. Further, the Illinois Constitution bars sex discrimination.

If those are insufficient to persuade skeptics, consider that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held "equal protection" guarantees mandates that homosexuals have a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Given those realities, it's pretty clear that whatever drove the ERA as an issue a half-century ago no longer applies, except, of course, for the appearances that drive legislative showmanship in Springfield.

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