Georgia push for Equal Rights Amendment draws GOP support

ATLANTA (AP) — A push for Georgia to become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which supporters say would usher it across the constitutional threshold for ratification, has gained steam with the backing of some prominent Republicans.

But the idea has long languished in the GOP-controlled legislature and some Republicans remain opposed, making the proposal’s prospects unclear.

Democratic state Sen. Nan Orrock of Atlanta and Republican state Sen. Renee Unterman of Buford are leading backers of a push to ratify the ERA. Supporters say that after years of disappointment, current efforts are showing promise because of newfound support among some Republicans and male lawmakers, spurred by the #MeToo movement and the 2018 midterm elections which saw so many women participate and run.

“This is the broadest collection of signatures that we’ve achieved, and it has so much to do with what is going on around the land,” Orrock said at a news conference Wednesday.

But whether that support — which currently counts seven Republican signers in the Senate, five of them male — will grow enough to pass both chambers is a lingering question.

Approved by Congress in 1972, the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution would outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender.

But 38 states must ratify it first. Thirty-seven already have, including Nevada and Illinois, which ratified the ERA within the last two years.

The quest to find — and be — state number 38 has touched off a push by activists and celebrities to revive the ERA in statehouses across the country.

Even if it’s ratified, though, court battles would likely ensue over a long-passed 1982 deadline set by Congress.

An effort to ratify the ERA in Virginia that had bipartisan backing stalled last week after a Republican-controlled committee in the House of Delegates voted down the gender-equality measure.

In Georgia, the proposals have gained some preliminary support from prominent Republicans in the form of co-signers. In addition to Unterman, state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta, the only other Republican woman in the Georgia Senate, is a co-signer. So are five of their male Republican colleagues: Sen. John Albers of Roswell, Sen. Chuck Hufstetler of Rome, Sen. Matt Brass of Newnan, Sen. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta and Sen. P.K. Martin of Lawrenceville.

Many of the GOP supporters are from areas near metro Atlanta, where changing demographics have led to a more competitive political landscape that increasingly favors Democrats.

Martin expressed his support for the amendment in an interview.

“I think it is important — where we are right now, what we are going through in our country — that we make sure women’s rights are protected,” Martin said. But he was also cautious about its prospects of moving forward.

“What I think dropping the resolution does is allow us to go through the process to fully vet this, say, ‘Have we done everything we can do?’, and to see where the support is,” Martin said.

Hufstetler and Beach both declined to comment, saying they were late for meetings.

Democratic State Sen. Donzella James of Atlanta said that she has worked on the issue for over a decade and was happy that it might “finally” move forward with some bipartisan support. She said she had tried to introduce the legislation “more times than I can remember.”

“But now is the time. It’s the year of the woman, and now is the time,” James said. “We now have a lot of progressive men in both parties who see that we are not just trying to push women forward, but are trying to find some balance.”

Unterman said that, despite the momentum, she had heard some pushback from male Republican colleagues.

“Their questions are about whether Congress is going to approve this ... is it going to hold up in D.C ... has the time period expired.”

“Well let me tell you something I know from being a state senator. I don’t depend on Washington D.C.,” Unterman said. “We have our own autonomy as a state.”