Equal Rights for Oregon Women? Voters Can Make It So!

Over the next three weeks, Oregonians have a great opportunity: They can codify equal rights into the state constitution.

Starting today, the ballots being mailed out to eligible voters—all Oregon voting is by mail—include the proposed Oregon Equal Rights Amendment, Measure 89, which would add these words to the Oregon constitution:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.

Although Oregon’s constitution now reads that “no law shall be passed granting to any citizen or class of citizens privileges, or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens,” it does not specifically prohibit sex discrimination. That means women fighting employment, wage, benefit, or educational discrimination–or seeking protection against violence–don’t have the full weight of the Oregon constitution behind them. And current case law exempts discriminatory laws that are “justified” by “specific biological differences” between women and men. The ERA would remove that exemption.

Some claim that Oregon’s women don’t need explicit constitutional prohibitions against discrimination, but without such protection courts and legislatures can still roll back previous gains. Four of Oregon’s former Supreme Court justices agreed on the importance of Measure 89 in an open letter [pdf], with Paul De Muniz writing,

No current  provision in the constitution expressly provides those protections. Instead, the protections available to women are present as a result of case law. …We believe that passage of the Oregon ERA will acknowledge the contributions and importance of more than 50 percent of our citizens by finally providing women express recognition in our state’s most important document, its constitution.
Groups supporting the Oregon ERA include the YWCA, Boys and Girls Club of Southern Oregon, NAACP Eugene and Springfield, Oregon Education Association, Oregon Business Association, AFSCME, SEIU, League of Women Voters, American Association for University Women, Oregon NOW and the Feminist Majority Foundation (which is organizing support on college campuses for the measure).
In addition to its legal protections, the positive symbolism of the ERA cannot be denied, as political science professor and expert on gender discrimination law Linda J. Wharton has pointed out [pdf]:

The choice of the citizens of individual states to add explicit protection against sex discrimination to their constitution affirms fundamental principles of human dignity, equality and liberty at the core of American democracy. This unequivocal commitment to gender equality has powerful implications beyond the outcomes in individual cases. … State ERAs make crystal clear that the principle of sex equality is so important that it is ‘deemed worthy of constitutional magnitude.’

If Oregon voters approve Measure 89, the state will become the 23rd with its own the ERA. For more information, see VoteERA.org

Yes on 89!!