Most of America's young girls typically don't get to celebrate Phyllis Schlafly during women's history month, but they should. The conservative Schlafly not only had the right idea when she fought the Equal Rights Amendment during the 70s, but predictions she made back then are still accurate today.
Schlafly was head of the National Committee to Stop ERA. And stop it she did -- the U.S. Constitution was not amended. She argued that a federal Equal Rights Amendment was not necessary, claiming that, "the fact is that women already enjoy every constitutional right that men enjoy and have enjoyed equal employment opportunity since 1964."
Even though Congress overwhelmingly approved the ERA in 1972 -- passing the House 354-to-23 and the Senate 84-to-8 -- and the amendment would subsequently be ratified by more than 30 states (but not by the 38 its supporters needed), Schlafly fought the nonsensical Equal Rights Amendment to its death in 1982.
While explaining why the big push for the federal Equal Rights Amendment ultimately failed, in her book "Feminist Fantasies" (Spence, 2003) Schlafly reprinted some of her old objections: "ERA would put 'gay rights' into the U.S. Constitution because the word in the amendment is 'sex,' not 'women.' Eminent authorities have stated that ERA would legalize the granting of marriage licenses to same-sex couples and generally implement the gay and lesbian agenda."
And guess what? In the latest example of Schlafly's prescience, on Jan. 20, 2006, a Maryland court struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban based on the Old Line State's Equal Rights Amendment. As Jessica Echard, who works with Schlafly at Eagle Forum (the public-policy nonprofit Schlafly heads) points out, "The Maryland ERA language is very similar to the federal ERA, which refers to no discrimination based on 'sex' not 'women,' Using the term 'sex' demands same-sex marriage because banning it would be denying rights based on sex."
Agree or disagree with her politics, Phyllis Schlafly was right -- the Hawaii supreme court was the first, in 1993, to rule that its state ERA mandated same-sex marriage.
At the time of the big ERA fight, of course, you might have thought she was nuts. "Hey, Phyllis, your sheet is showing," a Doonesbury cartoon "joked." Famously, during a debate at Illinois State University in 1973, feminist mother Betty Friedan angrily declared, "I consider you a traitor to your sex, and Aunt Tom." Freidan said that she wanted to burn Schlafly at the stake.
For Schlafly, Freidan's fury came in handy. As Donald T. Critchlow recalls in "Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism" (Princeton, 2005), Schlafly replied, "I'm glad you said that because it just shows the intemperate nature of proponents of the ERA."
The Schlafly-was-right point about the ERA and marriage is worth noting -- not just for historical-accuracy reasons but because the Left keeps trying to revive the old loser. As late as last year, the ERA was reintroduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Senate.
Sheila Cole, now a senior House staffer, wasn't alive yet when Schlafly was first taking on the ERA, but worked with Schlafly as executive director of Eagle Forum in the late 1990s. Cole remembers, "One of the things I learned from watching Phyllis is that you always have to think like a chess player when dealing with the radical feminists."
Nowadays, Eagle Forum is content that the Equal Rights Amendment is dead as a viable national movement, despite Ted Kennedy's hopes (the ERA is his bill in the Senate) for its revival. Now Schlafly & Co. are more specifically concerned with protecting marriage -- in part from the damage done by state ERAs. Meanwhile, when Women's History Month comes around in March, how about a lesson starring a wise woman like Schlafly?