Assumed equality is not enough

Ninety-nine years ago, women achieved the right to vote in the United States. Three years later, Alice Paul introduced the Equal Rights Amendment with a rallying declaration: “There’s nothing complicated about ordinary equality!”

Today, we have continued to fail to uphold, in law, equality for all, a value that all Minnesotans share. This year the Minnesota House of Representatives took a historic step to affirm our fundamental values of fairness by voting to prohibit denial of equality under the law on the basis of gender. This bill, once it is passed by the House and Senate, will put a constitutional amendment on the ballot so that all Minnesota voters have the opportunity to vote to add to our State Constitution the statement that “Equality under the law shall not be abridged nor denied on account of gender.”

Objections from my Republican colleagues didn’t focus on how this would protect women who continue to be paid less than their male counterparts or how it would stamp out double standards that impact both women and men. Their arguments focused on their confusion around the word “gender,” assuming that most Minnesotans would also be confused by the common, inclusive word. Gender is a term that has been used throughout past and current legislation, and one that is found in Minnesota’s laws nearly 100 times. 

Republicans also raised concerns that a statement of equality in Minnesota’s Constitution would expand access to public funding for women’s reproductive health care. Minnesota’s abortion laws were settled by the Supreme Court’s constitutional ruling in 1995 and this bill has no intention of amending those laws. This is a bill to empower Minnesotans to vote to ensure that all people are guaranteed equality under the law, to ensure that no one is treated as a second-class citizen on account of gender. 

This simple measure continues to collect dust in the Minnesota Senate, as it has throughout our country since 1923. I urge my Senate colleagues to reexamine the historic barriers our foremothers and mothers faced in garnering equal pay, reproductive choice, and access to economic independence. I ask our Senators to consider their constituents, and to make the bold move to bring all people one step closer to gender equality in Minnesota.

It’s already halftime in the legislative session. The clock is ticking, and it’s about time to get this right. As one of my constituents told me: “I’ve waited 46 years for this, let’s get it done!’

 

—Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL-New Brighton) is a former teacher and current library media specialist for Robbinsdale Area Schools. She is the chief author of the House Equal Rights Amendment.

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