New York state was the birthplace of women’s rights in America, starting with the Seneca Falls convention in July 1848.
In 1917, the New York state constitution granted women the right to vote, three years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In May of 1972, when Richard Nixon was president and Nelson Rockefeller was governor, New York state ratified the federal Equal Rights Amendment.
Yet here we are, more than 170 years after that groundbreaking convention, a century after women gained the right to vote, and nearly 50 years since the state supported equal rights for women across the nation, and New York still does not guarantee equal rights for women within its own borders.
It provides for equal rights on the basis of race, color, creed or religion. But despite what many people might rightly assume, that protection doesn’t extend to New York’s 10 million females, who make up nearly 52 percent of the state’s population.
For a state that claims to be so progressive when it comes to ensuring the rights of all individuals, this is one significant omission that needs to be rectified.
New York’s current patchwork of laws and protections haven’t proven to be effective.
The legislation (A271/S3249) is simple.
It would amend the state constitution to ensure that no one is subjected to discrimination of one’s civil rights “by any firm, corporation or institution or by the state or any agency or subdivision of the state” on the basis of gender.
That means in the areas of health, employment, pay, domestic violence cases, education and in other areas in which women often face discrimination.
The amendment not only would protect women against discrimination, it would protect them from rollbacks in protection on the national level.
Had this law been in effect over time, some legal experts have said, it might have changed how women were treated in past legal cases during which discrimination was alleged.
The inconsistencies in the state constitution, in some cases from county to county, also pose a problem when someone who falls into one of the other protected categories attempts to claim discrimination.
Was a black woman discriminated against in the workplace because she was black or because she was a woman, and which standard of the constitution should apply when it comes to verdicts and legal compensation?
For this to be added to the constitution, it must pass two consecutive state legislatures and be ratified in a statewide vote. So it’s not possible to add this simple language to the state constitution for another two years.
Still, there’s no time like the present to get the ball rolling.
The Democrat-controlled state Assembly has approved the measure in the past, most recently on Tuesday, by a unanimous bipartisan vote of 136-0.
The state Senate now must act, and with Democrats now controlling the house, it’s possible that passage is more likely.
As a state that prides itself on equal rights, New York needs to imbed equal rights for women into its constitution.
It’s a matter of fairness. It’s a matter of justice.
Hopefully, it won’t take much longer.