The recent attempt of the North Dakota Legislature to nullify its vote from nearly 50 years ago to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment reminds us of the important business, and moral obligation, our nation has left unfinished.
The ERA was popular throughout the nation and easily received the two-thirds majority necessary in Congress to move it forward to the states. Pundits at the time predicted passage with little meaningful opposition.
The nation's attitude was favorable toward an amendment that would enshrine equal rights for women in the Constitution as opposed to the hit-and-miss approach to granting such rights through the state legislatures.
Thirty states voted for the ERA in the first year. It was well on its way toward the 38 needed, but it lost momentum when conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly and others began a nationwide campaign to defeat the measure.
The ERA would ban sex discrimination in housing, employment, education and in every other area it might occur.
Schlafly and her supporters were able to convince enough lawmakers in the remaining states the amendment would also force women to enter the draft, decriminalize rape, allow men not to support their families and, somewhat prophetically, allow for same-sex marriages and require the use of unisex toilets.
The scare tactics worked and when the deadline Congress set for passage came, the measure fell three states short.
It was also at that time five states - Idaho, Kentucky, Tennessee, Nebraska and South Dakota - rescinded their ratification. (Idaho was the fifth state to vote in favor of the ERA a mere two days after it went to the states in 1972.)
And it gets legally murky from there. Some say the Congress had no authority to establish a deadline and others say states can't rescind their votes.
Recently, North Dakota lawmakers, seven male House Republicans to be exact, sponsored a bill to rescind the state's vote from 1975. It passed the House but failed in the Senate. In this culture of political disconnect, it's quite possible more states will have a go at rescission.
Despite the many strides women have made in the past 50 years, equal rights as envisioned in the ERA are not a reality and probably won't be without the authority of the Constitution behind the effort.
The idea of an enacted ERA is still viable. Talk of revising efforts to pass it surface every so often and maybe it's time again.
In the past few years, two more states have added their ratification to the effort: Nevada in 2017 and Illinois in 2018. Those actions are encouraging decades after the ERA was declared dead.
It's a long shot with many legal hurdles standing in the way but certainly worth the effort. Successful or not, the time is right to send that message of equality.