“When we wake up each day to the loud and growing chorus of women saying ‘me too,’ how can we deny them a legal tool as powerful and important as their own country’s constitution?”
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), lead sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 5 (S.J.Res. 5), which would remove the deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment, spoke on the floor of the Senate Thursday to commemorate International Women’s Day. Video of Senator Cardin can be downloaded here. His full remarks, as delivered, follow.
“I rise to recognize March as Women’s History Month, and today – March 8th – as International Women’s Day. Both at home and abroad, how a country treats its women is very much a barometer of its success. When women live without limitations on their ability to work, societies prosper. When women live without restrictions on their access to jobs, health care or justice, societies prosper. When women succeed, so do their families, their communities, and their countries.
“International Women’s Day reminds us that America’s global leadership starts with our progress here in the United States. Unfortunately, President Trump moved the United States in the wrong direction when he decided not just to reinstate the Global Gag Rule, but to expand it. The Global Gag Rule disqualifies international organizations from receiving U.S. family planning assistance if they use any non-U.S. funds to provide abortion services or even just counseling. What President Trump fails to realize is that access to the family planning services these organizations provide is one of the best tools we have to prevent abortions. When enforced, the Global Gag Rule has closed the doors on some of the most effective, lifesaving women’s health programs in developing countries. By reinstating and expanding the Global Gag Rule, President Trump is denying millions of women and their families’ access to critical health care services and endangering their lives and the lives of their children.
“International Women’s Day is an appropriate time to remind my Senate colleagues that we must end the Global Gag Rule once and for all.
“It was also recently reported that the State Department is removing references to women’s rights from this year’s Human Rights Report. Paging George Orwell. I’m troubled to learn that the Trump administration apparently doesn’t feel that women’s rights are important enough to include in our conversations on human rights.
“I was equally troubled to learn that Secretary Tillerson also removed gender equality integration from the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM). The Foreign Affairs Manual is the chief document for instructing our foreign policy leadership on the best ways to integrate gender considerations into our diplomatic efforts. Abandoning that signals a reversal of decades’ worth of work in promoting global gender equality.
“The United States should be taking the lead on fostering an open and honest dialogue about women’s issues internationally – not silencing it. We are better than this. We must be better than this.
“Here at home, women have succeeded this past year in taking took control of the narrative on sexual harassment and they have forced deaf ears to listen. We are witnessing the rise of a new, more equitable social order, built on the raw grit and courage of women speaking out to say, ‘Me Too.’
“Hearing so many of our fellow Americans – mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, friends – retell and relive some of their most traumatic experiences has been deeply troubling, but it has also been a lesson in bravery, in tenacity, and in women’s unbreakable spirit.
“It is that bravery which we must now meet with our own, as individuals and collectively. If we witness harassment, we must be brave enough to intervene. If we are told about abuse, we must be brave enough to take decisive action. If we hear of gender discrimination, we must be brave enough to fight it, even when doing so is not politically expedient or popular. Scores of women have proven their moral strength. It’s time for us to demonstrate ours.
“This Women’s History Month, let us take a moment to reflect on the thousands and thousands of ‘Me Too’ stories that go untold or unheard.
“Let us recognize the single, working mother making barely more than minimum wage, living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to turn $5 into a meal for three. When her co-worker begins propositioning her, growing increasingly persistent and threatening with each attempt, there are no cameras and cable talk shows waiting to expose him. She bears the burden alone, often feeling forced to choose between enduring disparaging behavior at work or providing for her children at home.
“Let us recognize the college graduate working in an office, empowered and excited about the direction of her career. But in every meeting, her boss undermines her ideas, and one day, when they’re alone, questions her suggestively about her methods of birth control. Weeks later, his lewd remarks evolve into inappropriate physical conduct, and he tells her if she ever complains, he will ensure she never finds another job in her chosen profession.
“Let us recognize the immigrant woman working hard at her new job in her new home, motivated to become part of the American Dream. Her male coworkers call her by disparaging names, and suggest openly to their supervisor that she should make less than they do, in the event she ever becomes pregnant and ‘costs the company money’. She begins to fear both for her job and for herself, but to quit would mean to lose the new life she has so painstakingly built.
“For an untold number of women, these stories are painfully familiar. The ‘Me Too’ movement has proven that sexual harassment and discrimination know no age and no income level. These experiences are felt by all women, of all backgrounds, and so it is up to every man to combat it. Sexual harassment is about power. It’s about harassers and authority figures feeling emboldened by being able to behave however they want – whenever they want – with impunity.
“So let us destroy that sense of impunity.
“If this behavior is about exerting a twisted kind of power, let us arm women with the most powerful tool in our legal system: the U.S. Constitution. Let us, finally, pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
“The ERA is barely longer than a Tweet, but it would finally give women full and equal protection under the Constitution. Section 1 of the ERA states, quite simply, that ‘Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.’
“When Congress proposed the ERA in 1972, it provided that the measure had to be ratified by three-fourths of the States – 38 States – within seven years. This deadline was later extended to 10 years by a joint resolution, but ultimately only 35 out of 38 States had ratified the ERA when the deadline expired in 1982. Note that the deadline wasn’t contained in the amendment itself; the deadline was in the text of the joint resolution.
“Article V of the Constitution contains no time limits for the ratification of amendments, so the ERA deadline is arbitrary. To put the matter in context, the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits Congressional pay raises without an intervening election, was ratified in 1992, 203 years after it was first proposed.
“The Senate should vote to remove the ERA deadline immediately, and every State in our union that has not yet taken up its consideration should do so without any further delay.
“Nevada became the 36th State to ratify the amendment last March, leaving the ERA only 2 States short of the required three-fourths of the States threshold under the Constitution if the deadline were to be abolished.
“I think many – perhaps most – Americans would be shocked to learn that our Constitution has no provision expressly prohibiting gender discrimination.
“The ERA would incorporate a ban on gender-based discrimination, explicitly written or otherwise, into the Constitution. It could change outcomes in unequal pay cases by requiring the Supreme Court to use the higher standard of ‘strict scrutiny’ when assessing those cases – the same standard used in racial and religious discrimination cases.
“Just as important, it would provide a constitutional basis for claims of gender-based violence, and give Congress the constitutional basis to pass a law giving women victimized by gender-based violence legal recourse in federal courts.
“In a 2011 interview, the late Justice Antonin Scalia summed up the need for an Equal Rights Amendment best. He said, ‘Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.’
“So I ask my Senate colleagues this question most sincerely: are we willing to do what must be done to prohibit gender discrimination in the Constitution?
“Progress has no autopilot feature. We must be its agents. We must be its champions. And when we wake up each day to the loud and growing chorus of women saying ‘me too,’ how can we deny them a legal tool as powerful and important as their own country’s constitution?
“The people being affected by systemic gender inequality are our constituents. They are our wives, our daughters, and our granddaughters. They are American citizens and human beings who deserve basic respect and equality.
“We are capable of so much more than lip service. We are capable of celebrating Women’s History Month by making history. I call on this Senate to remove the deadline on passing the Equal Rights Amendment and show American women that we are the leaders; that we were sent here, and we will take action.
“Let us prove we will use our voices when silence becomes complicity, and that we will use our votes when our values need defending.
“Women deserve to see that their Nation’s founding document values them and treats them in a fashion equal to men. They are right to expect that gender equality should be an explicit, basic principle of our society.
“Let us all work together to get this done. Women’s rights are human rights. And human rights are not, and never should be, a partisan issue.”