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Just in time: Nevada prepares to pass the Equal Rights Amendment at a pivotal moment

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Even if—or in fact because—the nation is not prepared to address the ERA in 2017, a lone symbol of equality coming from one state is still a good thing.
Illustration: Ian Racoma
Stacy J. Willis

In 1972, Elvis was playing the Las Vegas Hilton, Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was published in hardback and Strip casinos had been racially integrated only 12 years earlier. In Congress, the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed, but it required ratification by three-fourths, or 38, of the 50 states by 1982. Twenty-two states ratified it the first year. But the rest were slow, and 10 years later, with only 35 of the necessary 38 states ratifying the amendment, it failed.

The core of the amendment read: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Nevada was not on the side of Equal Rights in 1972. Our state was one of three western states that did not ratify the amendment, along with Utah and Arizona. The rest were clustered in the southeast U.S.

But four decades later, state Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, has taken the ERA to the Nevada legislature again, and this time, it appears to have support. The measure, which passed the Senate and has Gov. Brian Sandoval’s support, is expected to pass the Assembly vote on March 22, the date the original bill passed Congress in 1972.

Does it matter? Is it just symbolic? Do symbols matter? Spearman answered those question in the Washington Post, which, along with other national media outlets, has taken note of Nevada’s revival of the ratification amendment: “It’s imperative because people around the country and, yes, even some people around the world are questioning America’s commitment to diversity and equality.”

It’s a little frustrating that it’s imperative, the same way it was frustrating and yet energizing to see women all over the nation march in January in protest of what newly elected President Donald Trump represented to them: sexism, bigotry, xenophobia, inequality. At the Las Vegas march, at least three women carried a sign that spoke to the regressive nature of these issues: “I can’t believe I still have to protest this sh*t!”

As I walked behind that sign, I couldn’t have agreed more. So many ugly battles I thought were more or less decided in favor of basic human rights—women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights—are back in the throes of cultural debate. I never thought I’d see the day when more than 100 Jewish community centers and synagogues were threatened in America; I never thought I’d see the day when the U.S. President asked White House correspondent April Ryan, who is black, if she would set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus because, “Are they friends of yours?” As in, you know, all black people know each other. I also never anticipated the need for vitriolic, motivated rants about letting trans people use the bathroom; and I kind of thought LGBT rights were on a steady progressive roll, not subject to rollbacks popping up in the name of religious freedom to hate. Obviously, I have been foolish.

All of this is to say that if Nevada’s imminent passage of the Equal Rights Amendment seems 40 years too late, think again. Even if—or in fact because—the nation is not prepared to address the ERA in 2017, a lone symbol of equality coming from one state is still a good thing. It’s a reminder, in this regressive climate, that there are pockets of people, including the Democrat-led Nevada Legislature, where people vocally support the principles of equality. It’s nice to be in a state making assertions that hew to our most egalitarian and unifying instincts at a moment when our national culture is so vilely separatist.

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