Fresno’s City Manager Wilma Quan, Fire Chief Kerry Donis, former mayor and now foundation CEO Ashley Swearengin, and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims are among many local women who have shattered the glass ceiling that has traditionally prevented them from occupying top spots in both government and corporate worlds. Their success is due to their excellence, persistence, and a societal shift in defining and accepting the many roles that women fill.
To acknowledge this, every year since 1973 Women’s Equality Day is celebrated on Aug. 26 by presidential proclamation. It is both an acknowledgment of victories and a spur to further achievement of equal opportunity. As proposed by New York congresswoman Bella Abzug, it is a celebration of Women’s Right to Vote, which was recognized in the 19th amendment to the Constitution in 1920. Many organizations seize the day to highlight the gains women have made and the work that still remains.
One of these battles continues over the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA. This is a proposed amendment to our Constitution that will guarantee legal rights regardless of sex. Under this amendment there would also be discrimination protection for men.
Talk about long drawn-out battles: It was first proposed by suffragist Alice Paul 96 years ago and is still awaiting confirmation. It was proposed again in the 1970s and this time was approved by both the House and the Senate. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the procedure calls for it also to be approved by a two-thirds majority of state legislatures. By 1978, 35 legislatures of the necessary 38 states had ratified the amendment.
As if the procedure were not complicated enough, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota voted to revoke their ratification before the 1979 deadline. But there is no provision in the law for rescission of a vote. Or as we kids used to say, no backsies!
However, whether a state can revoke its ratification of a federal constitutional amendment still remains a legal question. President Carter signed a resolution extending the ratification deadline to June 30, 1982. No additional state legislatures ratified the ERA by that deadline. Since 1978, attempts have been made in Congress to extend or remove the deadline.
On March 22, 2017, the Nevada Legislature became the first to ratify the ERA after the expiration of both deadlines. The Illinois General Assembly then ratified the ERA on May 30, 2018. Assuming those five states who revoked ratification acted illegally, and their ratification still counts, that means there is only one more state to go to ratify the ERA.
The exciting news is that legislatures in Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee have been debating casting an additional, final vote for ratification. If this happens the amendment will then be taken to court to determine whether the original deadline for ratification was legal. Precedent indicates that it was not legally binding, so there is a very good chance that one of these states can provide the impetus for getting the job done for all citizens.
Annually the League of Women Voters of Fresno celebrates Women’s Equality Day by honoring a woman who occupies a leadership position traditionally available to men. In the past we have honored Judge Hilary Chittick, Clovis Community College President Deborah Ikeda, Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth, Philharmonic Conductor Rei Hotoda, Bitwise co-founder Irma Olguin and former Clovis Mayor Lynne Ashbeck, among others.
This year we are excited to honor Dr. Carole Goldsmith, president of Fresno City College and a leader on state and national levels as an expert on workforce development and career technical education. Before taking the helm at Fresno City, Goldsmith served as president of West Hills College. She started her career of service as a K-12 teacher at a small rural school, and still visits the classroom as an adjunct professor at the university level. Most recently, she is serving on the Board of Governors Task Force on Workforce, Job Creation and a Strong Economy.
The public is invited to the league’s reception for Dr. Goldsmith on Aug. 27 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Stone Soup, 1345 Bulldog Lane in Fresno. Call 472-3018 for further information and to make a required $10 reservation for the event, as seating is limited.
Francine M. Farber of Fresno is a retired educational administrator and now a fulltime community volunteer.