Equal rights for women? As a campaign slogan, isn’t that phrase a whole generation out of date? Apparently not. One of the seven ballot measures facing Oregon voters this fall is described online as the “Equal Rights for Women Initiative.” And it will probably pass, even though it’s hard to see exactly what it would accomplish that wasn’t accomplished long ago.
The measure would add this section to the state constitution: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.” Of course it shouldn’t. But it’s completely unclear how adding the words to the constitution would make any difference to anybody.
The Oregon constitution already says that laws granting “privileges or immunities” must apply equally to all persons. That’s pretty vague. But at least it covers “all persons,” whatever it means.
The proposed addition would specify equality regardless of sex. (Simmer down, boys, we’re talking about chromosomes, not the act.) So once we get specific on sex, do we then invite the inference that equality before the law is no longer protected for other human traits such as color, old age, religion, ancestry, disability, political affiliation and so on?
The amendment has another part: “The Legislative Assembly shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this section.” But the legislature already has the power to enact whatever law changes in the name of equality it wants. It does not need this constitutional amendment. The inevitable conclusion is that the amendment has no practical effect.
A Portland lawyer and his wife, John and Leanne DiLorenzo, spent more than $400,000 to get this thing on the ballot. Voters might wonder why anyone would throw that kind of money at a measure that makes no change. Before they vote this October and November (ending Nov. 4), voters should say: “Name one useful effect that this initiative would have.” If none is forthcoming, the answer should be no. (hh)