Southern Baptists in Illinois are on record opposing renewed efforts to add an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
This year Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the ERA passed by Congress in 1972, one short of the 38 required for it to take effect as the 28th Amendment.
Fueled by resurgence of women’s rights campaigns such as the #MeToo movement and anger about sexist comments from political figures, other states such as Virginia are considering similar legislation.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney has introduced a federal bill to amend the Constitution with the guarantee: “Women shall have equal rights in the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
“Women are half the population and yet, the only right we are guaranteed in the Constitution is the right to vote,” the New York Democrat said this summer. “At a time when there is an outcry from across our country for equal pay for women, an end to sexual harassment and assault, and heightened awareness of sex discrimination in practically every sector of society, we must talk about constitutional equality.”
In its annual meeting Nov. 7-8, the Illinois Baptist State Association passed a resolution urging churches and their members to stand against the Equal Rights Amendment, because “the definition of sex used by the ERA implies that sexual activity with a person of the same sex is morally equivalent to sex between a male and a female.”
“The constitutional concepts of equal justice and equal rights under the law do not mean that everyone should be treated exactly the same,” the resolution read in part.
While the 14th Amendment to the Constitution ratified in 1868 granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, including freed former slaves, the resolution said, it “had nothing to do with sexual preference, including homosexuality, transgender and other lifestyles.”
Other “whereas” statements observed that “bathrooms are designated as male and female because females and males have rights to privacy” and claimed the ERA would open the door to women being drafted for front-line combat by the military, causing “unnecessary damage and instability to American families.”
First introduced in 1923, just three years after the 19th Amendment guaranteeing the right of women to vote, support for the ERA gained momentum with the rise of feminism in the 1960s, prompting an anti-ERA movement in the early 1970s led by Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative political activist who died in 2016.
Schlafly’s STOP (Stop Taking Our Privileges) ERA campaign got credit for the ERA’s narrow defeat. Just 35 states ratified the amendment, and five of those subsequently rescinded their ratification.
With a record 116 women just elected to Congress, ERA supporters now believe the time is ripe for a 28th Amendment to be added to the Constitution. It would be the first new amendment since 1992, when the 27th Amendment barred members of Congress from granting themselves pay raises during the current session.
“Women everywhere are demanding equality,” said actress Alyssa Milano. “The #MeToo movement was such a powerful phenomenon because for far too long, women have not felt heard. It’s hard to empower women when they are not recognized as part of our constitution. Now is the time for that to change and for the ERA to become part of the law for our nation.”
The effort faces legal hurdles, because the deadline for ratifying the 1972 version of the ERA expired in 1982. Congress could recognize the additional states that ratified since then by passing legislation to re-extend the deadline or start over with a new bill that would have to pass the House and the Senate and be re-ratified by all 38 states.
Another resolution by Illinois Baptists opposed state legislation requiring public schools to include in history classes “a study of the roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”
The IBSA resolution said the proposed law “would promote LGBTQ lifestyles” and “is in direct opposition to biblical values and to the doctrinal position of Southern Baptists and Illinois Baptists.”