The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has had a simple purpose since it was first proposed in Congress in 1923: People should get equal protection under the law no matter their gender.
That's as uncontroversial as legislation gets, but the ERA has struggled and failed for decades to get ratification nationwide. So legislators in Minnesota are trying (again) to get an amendment on the state’s books. If we can’t have equality all over the United States, we can at least have it here.
The Minnesota House voted on the amendment on Thursday. It passed 72-55.
But there were still 55 people who thought “equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied on account of gender” was a statement too controversial to get behind.
Why? A number of reasons surfaced during debate, but many zeroed in on one word: “gender.” Several Republican reps, including Andover's Peggy Scott, Mazeppa’s Steve Drazkowski, and Maple Lake’s Marion O’Neill, argued for amendments that would change the wording to “sex,” “biological sex,” or “sex” as it “appears on one’s birth certificate” instead.
“Gender,” they argued, could be construed to mean something that is neither male nor female, leaving the amendment to give rights to those genders too.
“Biological sex is an objective fact,” Republican Glenn Gruenhagen argued. People, he said, can sometimes “change their identity based on ‘feelings’ and not ‘objective facts,’” and feel one way one day, and another way another day.” This was reason enough to narrow the language. (He didn’t explain why “feelings” would make a person less deserving of equal rights.)
There was also concern about granting rights to trans men and trans women. They could possibly then use facilities that make them more comfortable, or, say, play on the boys’ basketball team if they identify as a boys. Republican Rep. Peggy Bennett worried that allowing trans women to play women’s sports would mean “the end of girls’ and women’s sports as we know it.”
“We’re going backwards, people,” she said.
Then came abortion -- a word that appears nowhere in the amendment. O’Neill argued that the ERA in other states has been used to strike down bans on taxpayer-funded abortions, and proposed that this right should be explicitly left out of the legislation. (Her amendment failed, as did others trying to change the word “gender.”)
But in the end, the ERA’s proponents prevailed.
“Which one of you gets to decide how we self-identify?” Democratic sponsor Mary Kunesh-Podein asked. “It is none of your business… I identify as me, you identify as you, and we are all equal.”
She promised that the “entire state of Minnesota” was going to see who exactly they represented: “Everyone in Minnesota, or just certain people that fall under your definition of gender.”
Here are the 55 legislators who voted against equal rights for all: