The Nevada State Senate made history last Wednesday, Mar. 1, when it voted to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that hasn’t been touched in three-and-a-half decades, in a 13-8 vote.
The ERA was first proposed in 1923, but wasn’t adopted until 1972, when the U.S. Congress gave a 7-year deadline for ratification from the states. Because the ERA was an amendment to the Constitution, three-fourths of the states — 38 total — must agree with and adopt the amendment in order for it to go into effect.
Though it has been over 35 years since Congress’ 7-year deadline has passed, Nevada state Sen. Patricia Spearman, primary sponsor of the bill , argued that because the deadline was not specified in the actual text of the amendment, the passage is still possible.
“The objections to ratifying the ERA are false, disingenuous and misleading,” Spearmen said. “As such, opposition to passage creates a default position yielding to the antiquated notion of misogynistic patriarchy.”
The bill passed with mostly Democrats voting yes and Republicans voting no, the notable exceptions being Heidi Gansert, a Republican from Reno, and Patricia Farley, an Independent from Las Vegas, both of whom voted in favor of ratification.
While Gansert was initially cautious, offering an amendment to satisfy several republican concerns about abortion, she was advised that an amendment excluding abortion from the ERA was not relevant to the issue it covered and eventually decided to join her fellow female legislators to vote yes on the amendment.
“I understand now today, here in Nevada and across the world, there’s a crescendo building … I can hear it, and I can feel it,” Gansert said.
She also said that while Nevada has taken steps and put into place laws that fight discrimination, she appreciates the continued fight for equal rights for women.
The several moving stories and encouragements to pass the amendment did not remove the opposition to it.
There was worry from State Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, that the ERA would encourage and result in the legalization of partial-birth abortions and would mandate taxpayer-funded abortions.
However, the Hyde Amendment, passed by the House of Representatives in 1976 and amended over the years, bars the use of certain federal funds to pay for abortion except to save the life of the woman or if the pregnancy arises from incest or rape.
In addition to Roberson’s opposition, Sen. Becky Harris of Las Vegas said she was opposed to the ERA because of its offering of “empty promises and hollow platitudes.”
Harris also said she worries the ERA would separate families if women are allowed to be drafted into the military.
Harris was the only female senator to vote against the ERA bill.
State Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, questioned the legality of passing the amendment over 35 years after Congress’ deadline. He argued that the ERA has long surpassed its deadline for approval and even if Nevada passes it, there would still need to be two additional states to pass it for ratification.
“Therefore, I see no reason why we’re voting on this today as it has no effect, and I don’t believe in doing things that are symbolic when it comes to the Constitution,” Settelmeyer said.
State Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, agreed that the passage of the ERA that morning would be symbolic, but also called it necessary.
She shared a story of her grandmother, who was advised not to go to college because she was a woman and was instead encouraged to learn household work and find a husband to provide for her. She shared stories of her mother who faced sexism in the workplace and she said that adopting the ERA would change the legal standard by which discriminatory laws are reviewed by the courts.
After the 13-8 floor vote, the ERA passed the state senate and will now head to the Assembly for a vote.
The passage of the ERA was a priority that Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford from Las Vegas had laid out during his speech to open the session. On Wednesday, he praised the senators for making history by passing the ERA.