By a vote of 16 to 15, the Arkansas Senate decided last week that Arkansans do not want women to have the same rights as men. There are six females in the Senate, and what’s so strange is that three of them — Ruth Whitaker, R-Cedarville; Barbara Horn, D-Foreman; and Sharon Trusty, R-Russellville — voted no with the majority and another one, Irma Brown, D-Little Rock, didn’t vote at all.
The sponsor of the joint resolution was Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, and she and Sen. Mary Anne Salmon, D-North Little Rock, were the only female senators who voted yes. Salmon said: “I don’t want to be the same as a man. I just want to be equal.” Well, the majority of the legislators in 35 states feel the same way. But not Arkansans, or at least the Arkansans in the state Senate.
All of this was started in 1920 by the Congressional Union’s National Woman’s Party. It was led by Alice Paul, a University of Pennsylvania professor who was so radical fighting the treatment of women that she was arrested six times. She said, “We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government.”
In those days, few women ever went to college. If there was a divorce, the woman always had to take care of the children. Women weren’t allowed to practice law, and the only jobs they could get were as maids, waitresses, nurses, teachers and office workers. They also were paid much less than men, and many women will tell you that hasn’t changed.
So when the amendment to the Constitution that gave women the right to vote in 1919 (it barely became law when a 24-year-old legislator in Tennessee changed his vote from no to yes), it encouraged Paul and her followers to ask for all rights with their Equal Rights Amendment:
“Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
“Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”
It wasn’t until 1972 that the Congress approved the amendment because of the opposition by the unions and the power structure. Three-fourths of the states must also approve amendments. Twenty-two states ratified it in the first year, but then the states began to fall off. In 1977, 35 states had approved it but not Arkansas. (In 1977 there were three females in the Arkansas legislature; now there are 27.)
This year a task force of the National Council of Women’s Organizations is trying again to pass Alice Paul’s amendment. If only three of the 15 states that have been against it should change their minds, it would become the 28th Amendment of the Constitution. Jennifer Macleod, the national coordinator of the Union National Woman’s Party, thinks there’s a chance. She believes that Illinois and Florida legislators will vote yes soon.
I just don’t understand why Arkansas legislators, especially females, are opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment. “They hear ridiculous scare tactics that are absolutely wrong,” said Macleod. Madison was more specific. “They make up things,” she said, providing some examples: “It will merge Boy and Girl scouts. Require colleges to have male and female students living in the same rooms. Make the federal government pay for abortions. Men and women would have to share bathrooms.”
One of the most active opponents who spoke against the bill was Jerry Cox, who runs the Family Council, a conservative organization that takes its cues from James Dobson, the right-wing TV and radio preacher who broadcasts daily to 7 million people. Cox told me he thought the amendment would simply make it easier “for the government to muddle even more in our lives.” He also said the amendment might allow women to be drafted and sent into combat, and that it also could lead to same-sex marriages. “I think we want women to be treated the same as men but not exactly the same,” he told me.
The evangelicals are creeping in everywhere since George W. Bush became president. Some said that his State of the Union was really a sermon. Think of these bills that were introduced at this session of the Arkansas legislature:
Forty-one representatives and 15 senators sponsored a bill by Rep. Bill Pritchard, R-Elkins, that would allow students to lead prayer at public school functions, which is prohibited by both the U.S. and Arkansas Constitutions. Also forbidden in the U.S. Constitution was another bill — passed 70 to 14 — offered by Pritchard that says there could be no abortions in the third trimester unless two doctors agreed it was necessary for the mental or physical health of the mother. Rep. Frank Glidewell, R-Ft. Smith, created a special auto license plate that says, “In God We Trust.” The House rejected the principle of separation of church and state — a principle included in the constitutions of both the United States and Arkansas — in a resolution asking for reaffirmation introduced by Rep. Buddy Blair, D-Ft. Smith.
I’m about to decide that we are becoming Bushed. After all, most Arkansans voted for him.