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When it comes to equal rights, what are men afraid of?

For the past five years, North Carolina women have urged the General Assembly to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The US Constitution requires three-fourths of the states must ratify an amendment in order to put it into the Constitution. That’s 38 states, and 37 have already done it.

Now it looks like our neighboring state will beat us to it. Virginia’s recent legislative election opens the gate to ratification of the ERA, which will guarantee constitutional equality for all women and men.

This past spring, by just one vote, the Virginia legislature failed to ratify the amendment, whereupon women organized to elect strong pro-ERA majorities in both chambers. Ratification is virtually certain when legislators convene in January.

Why is this amendment so scary that it has taken decades to win approval by 38 states? The ERA simply reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” That’s language very similar to the suffrage amendment. How scary is that?

The 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment will be observed in 2020. The suffrage amendment ensures that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” North Carolina women have been voting since 1920—no thanks to our legislature, which failed to ratify the suffrage amendment until 1971—a year after Louisiana did so. In 1984 Mississippi was the very last state to ratify it.

Will North Carolina and those other two states take their place in history as the slowest to ratify equal rights for women and men?

Whatever happens in Virginia, North Carolina women and men, including the legislators who have sponsored or cosponsored the ERA, will nevertheless persist in urging our General Assembly to ratify.

Well-organized ERA activists are also pushing for congressional passage of H.J. Res. 79. This measure eliminates the deadline for ratification which Congress imposed in 1972 and later extended. That revised deadline, 1982, didn’t deter two other states from voting for equal rights. Nevada and Illinois ratified the ERA in 2017 and 2018, respectively. H.J. Res. 79 will clarify the fact that the deadline is invalid. Why?

· The Constitution doesn’t require deadlines for amendments.

· The ERA deadline isn’t part of the actual amendment but appears only in the preamble.

· The 27th Amendment, first sent to the states for ratification in 1789, was finally ratified by the requisite threefourths of states--203 years later.

North Carolina legislators face the 2020 election in, we hope, more fairly drawn districts. Those seeking to return to office had better expect voters to examine their stand on the ERA. Patriarchal legislative leaders stubbornly refused to allow committee hearings and floor votes in 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Like their Virginia counterparts, these legislators will face more women voters than ever before who are getting mighty incensed about the decades-long postponement of our rights.

My husband David Madden, a writer, is a keen observer of people. He admires strong women who stand up for their rights.

For men, he senses “a great trembling” as they see their power dwindling.

A man of quality is not threatened by a woman of equality. To our legislators who have not YET become cosponsors of the Equal Rights Amendment, I continue to ask: “What are you afraid of?”

Roberta Madden, a lifelong feminist, is co-director of RATIFY ERA-NC and past co-president of the ERA-NC Alliance. She lives in Black Mountain.

Bella Abzug, center with hat, smiles as she holds up her Equal Rights Amendment sign in a pro-equal rights demonstration on New York's Fifth Avenue, Aug. 26, 1980. About 5,000 marchers marched down Fifth Avenue chanting pro-equal rights slogans to celebrate the 60th anniversary of women receiving the right to vote. ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Roberta Madden Guest columnist

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