State senator and Tory leader debate whether Utah should ratify equal rights amendment

The equal rights amendment would change women’s lives, agree Utah state senator Kathleen Riebe and Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum. They just don’t agree on what those changes would be.

Riebe and Ruzicka participated in a virtual debate this week on whether Utah should ratify the ERA. First proposed in the 1920s, it states: “Equal rights under the law should not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on the basis of gender.

Last year, Virginia became the 38th and final state needed to add it to the US Constitution, decades after it was passed by the US Senate and House in 1972. But advocates expect legal challenges ahead, including the fact that five states voted to reverse ratification and efforts to remove a deadline for modification.

Ruzicka argued against ERA with his mentor Phyllis schlafly during the national push to ratify it in the 1970s and 1980s. Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, is the last lawmaker to table a resolution for Utah to ratify the federal amendment. As in previous years, however, SJR8 is stuck in commission and did not budge this session.

Here’s a condensed version of their debate on Wednesday, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Utah, Women’s March Salt Lake City and Utah ERA Coalition. It was moderated by Michelle Quist, lawyer and Salt Lake Tribune Columnist.

Why Riebe supports ERA

When Riebe was in high school in New York City, her mother stayed home to care for their family, she said. But after her father died, her mother got a job as a secretary at a university, where she didn’t earn the same salary as a gardener.

There was a strike, Riebe said, over why gardeners were paid more than secretaries. “It was because one was predominantly female and the other was predominantly male,” she said.

Riebe grew up working as a dump truck driver, police dispatcher, and wildland firefighter.

“We have definitely changed. We are definitely evolving, ”she said. “And I think the time has come to honor the changes we’ve made to the tie we’ve achieved. And so ERA is just this bill to solidify it. “

Why Ruzicka opposes ERA

The ERA is vague and poorly drafted, Ruzicka said, and she fears it will increase access to abortion, force women into the military, overturn laws that benefit women and mothers and affects “privacy and security” by having a unisex toilet. and changing rooms.

Women have already claimed equal rights through the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as many other laws in virtually every area of ​​American life, ”said Ruzicka, including the federal Equal Pay Act. 1963.

Ruzicka said she is also concerned about increased federal control over states, as ERA says “Congress will have the power to enforce the provisions of this section through appropriate legislation.”

Additionally, Utah already has its own equal rights amendment in the state’s constitution, she said. Article IV, section 1 states, “The rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office should not be denied or abridged on the basis of gender. The citizens, men and women, of this State will also enjoy all civil, political and religious rights and privileges.

Why is ERA still a problem today?

I think this question is still relevant today because it has never been finished. I don’t think this will end, ”Riebe said. “… Every time we introduce this bill, if it is not passed and not heard, someone else will take over.”

She added, “We have to solidify this for the girls of our future and women around the world, that we are not going to accept a lower level of care, lower level of employment, lower level of anything. . … We want all members of our family to have equal opportunities.

The debate on issues that are important to people, including ERA, “will continue,” Ruzicka said, as will the “right to life” efforts. But the federal ERA “is not the answer,” she said. Instead, “it belongs to the state level”.

Riebe agreed that it’s good that Utah has its state provision, but added, “We still have one of the biggest pay gaps in the country, and we have in fact been declared to be the worst place to live for women. “

“So if that was created and honored, then we would have a higher standard and we would have a higher salary. And we don’t, ”said Riebe.

Ruzicka said she disagreed with the idea “that Utah is behind in the way it treats women.”

“I think women are treated very well in this condition,” she said.

Utah and the ERA

The governor’s office for economic development “said the number one factor for businesses choosing Utah to locate is diversity,” according to Quist. She asked Riebe and Ruzicka how the ERA might affect businesses and opportunities for women in the future.

If the ERA is passed, said Ruzicka, she “doesn’t see that it could help at all.”

We don’t have ERA, and Utah is growing so fast we can’t keep up with it, ”she said.

Ruzicka said she “doesn’t see why we have to take the ERA for companies to come here or to say we have diversity.”

Riebe replied, “Our jobs are not the best paying jobs. We don’t attract the best companies. We do not attract diversified businesses.

Passing the ERA would help because “it’s going to provide another layer of security, saying that we honor diversity and we honor women. And we honor that we want people to have a living wage here, regardless of your color or gender, ”Riebe said.

Ruzicka and Riebe also discussed Utah’s significant gender pay gap and the contributing factors.

“You tell me that even though we have the equal rights amendment in the state of Utah, there is a big wage gap. Well, if that’s the case, I don’t think the (federal) equal rights amendment can fix it, ”Ruzicka said.

Riebe argued that the gender pay gap is not so much about gender discrimination as it is institutional discrimination.

When you look at people who are marginalized, that’s where you start to see this gap. And it is these people that we are trying to consolidate with equal rights, ”she said.

ERA and cultural issues

In the 1970s and 1980s, “one of the main arguments against ERA was that it … would promote same-sex marriage,” Quist said. Since then, same-sex marriage has become law, while the ERA has still not been passed.

Quist asked Riebe and Ruzicka, “Aren’t these cultural issues going to be part of a civilian conversation regardless of the existence of the ERA?” “

Riebe said she was fine with the idea. ERA is not going to solve all the problems or go into “the details” of what is causing them, she said.

ERA says it’s a great idea, ”said Riebe. “It’s a thought. It’s a feather in the hat to say … all family members matter. “

There are issues with the ERA debate “which happened anyway,” Ruzicka said, and “one of them is abortion.”

The difference is that Roe v. Wade could be overturned by the courts, according to Ruzicka, while the equal rights amendment is added to the Constitution by lawmakers.

Riebe replied that the courts are “like a pendulum. They sway back and forth and try not to sway violently. For her, abortion and PLAR “are not linked in my mind”.

I know people think they are, but I don’t think so. I think when we put those two things together, we are making the wrong assumption, ”said Riebe.

Utah also has several “guard rails” in place around abortion, Riebe said, and every year, “we have new bills that are presented restrict these medical choices.

I don’t think going through the ERA in Utah is going to change anything “with the abortion, she said.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America member of the body and writes on the status of women in Utah for the Salt Lake Tribune. Your matching donation to our RFA grant helps her continue to write stories like this; please consider making a tax deductible donation of any amount today by clicking here.

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