SENECA FALLS, N.Y. — There are just 24 words in the main section of the Equal Rights Amendment: “Equality of rights shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Now, 100 years have passed since the amendment was first proposed, and it remains unfulfilled.
That’s why former state Del. Barbara Evans Fleischauer and fellow activist and Morgantown NOW member, Adrianne Dering, took a 400-mile drive to Seneca Falls, N.Y. to represent West Virginia as delegates to the 2023 ERA Centennial Convention, held July 21-22.
Delegates believe the ERA to be the best safeguard for dismantling bad legislation and ensuring equality for future generations.
“It incomprehensible to me that I am living in a country where my daughter has less rights today than I did at her age,” said Dering.
The convention began at Seneca Fall’s First Presbyterian Church, the same location the Equal Rights Amendment was unveiled in 1923.
The conference was sponsored by several groups, including Generation Ratify, a youth-led group working to finalize the ERA and advocating gender justice.
Speakers for the weekend included Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo), Feminist Majority Founder and President Eleanor Smeal, NOW President Christian Nunez, Columbia law professor and constitutional law expert Ting Ting Cheng, and Emily Couture, co-founder of Generation Ratify.
It was in the First Presbyterian Church in Seneca Falls where suffragist Alice Paul and co-author Crystal Eastman first suggested the ERA as the next step after the 19th Amendment guaranteed women’s right to vote.
“The Equal Rights Amendment is worth it … even if it takes 10 years,” said Paul in 1923.
A century later, Delegates to the 2023 convention want to see that dream become a reality in their lifetimes. The requirements of Article Five of the Constitution have been met, with a two-thirds vote by both the House and the Senate, and ratification by 38 states, completing the three-fourths majority needed.
There is currently a discharge petition pending in the U.S. House of Representatives to send the ERA to the House floor and then on to the Senate.
The ERA has historically received bipartisan support. In a recent national poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, 85% of voters polled responded that they were in favor of the ERA, representing the highest favorability rating for a single issue in recent history.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is a co-sponsor of SJR 4, a Senate Resolution acknowledging that the constitutional requirements of Article V have been met. None of the other West Virginia members of Congress, including Sen. Shelley Moore-Capito (R-WV), Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV) or Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV) have given public statements on the matter.
Dering hopes that her elected representatives will follow through, overcoming any technical issues.
“Who can argue plain language that says sex discrimination is wrong? How could this possibly be up for debate?” Dering said.
She and Fleischauer want action now.
“Sadly, three of my relatives who were active in the ERA campaigns in the 1970s, two aunts and an uncle, did not live to see the Equal Rights Amendment become a reality,” Fleischauer said. “A hundred years is long enough to wait for equality.”