History of ERA Minnesota
Minnesota was the 26th state to ratify the federal ERA in 1973.
After the Deadline Passed
When the federal ERA deadline came and went in June 1982 without the necessary 38 states ratifying, Representative Phyllis Kahn and Senator Linda Berglin, both of Minneapolis, introduced Minnesota House and Senate Files #1 in each body as a way to show the importance of the issue and to not let the ERA die in Minnesota. It was at this point during the legislative session, the anti-choice majority stuck on an amendment that would render the amendment contradictory – in that they insisted on abridging women’s rights with an exception that those rights should not pertain to reproductive health or abortion.
After a Long Silence
As far as anyone can recall, the first hearing after 1983 occurred in 2001 when Senator John Marty of Roseville, as the newly designated chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, decided it was long overdue. Senator Dick Cohen of Saint Paul had been the bill's chief author since his very first legislative session in 1987 and has remained the chief author of the state ERA in every legislative session since. In 2001, the only person to step forward to testify to the bill was M. Kathleen Murphy. No action was taken on the bill that year, and no hearing was provided in the MN House, but Murphy began talking to as many women legislators as possible about how to give it life again.
After the Wellstone Crash
During the summer of 2002, Cindy Petrie, chair of the Business & Professional Women (BPW), Tammy Tesky, chair of the Minnesota Women's Political Caucus, and Kathleen Murphy, chair of Twin Cities NOW, got together to discuss the fact that the ERA was continually on each organization's platform, but no action was ever taken on it. During Murphy's many conversations with legislators, she learned that many of the women that fought for it in the 70's & 80's just did not want to talk about it. They said the ERA was such a sore spot, having come so far and done so much work to have it die away because of the lack of ratification was heartbreaking to many of them. To others, it seemed that it was not needed anymore or that it was too much to ask to bring back another effort. She was advised not to refer to the state constitutional amendment as the ERA.
The group of three called a meeting of all women's groups and called it the Women's Rights Action meeting. The notice for the meeting was sent out in September but scheduled for after the election in November. But this was the year of the Wellstone plane crash in October. Tim Pawlenty became the new governor, and women no longer had support in the legislature to prevent anti-choice burdens to be added to the law.
To the women's surprise, nearly 100 people, both men and women, showed up to the meeting on Nov. 14. including representatives from 16 organizations, individuals and elected officials. This momentum turned into an organized effort leading to multiple actions over the 2003-2004 legislative session to counter a new administration that was not sympathetic to women's rights or women's autonomy. These actions included a Women's Response to the State of the State Address given by Gov. Pawlenty in January, a Women's Response to the Budget in February, a 24-Hour Sit-in at the Governor's Mansion in April to protest the 24-Hour Waiting bill for abortion that passed the legislature that year, and finally, they held created a cemetery of all the programs that were cut along with a funeral of the "Great" state of Minnesota. All of which got covered in the press.
For the next 6 years, the legislature did not have support in the Minnesota House to consider the ERA. But in the 2008 election, the year we elected Barack Obama as our president, Minnesota had finally elected state representatives in both chambers that were supportive of equal rights for women and men.
Continued next column...
Finally, a Majority in Both Chambers
In 2009, with this pro ERA majority in the House and Senate, the time was right to push for an equal rights amendment to be placed on the ballot in 2010 and added to the Minnesota Constitution. So the Minnesota Constitutional Amendment for Equality Coalition (or MN CAFE Coalition for short) was pulled together by Kathleen Murphy. The campaign kicked off on August 26, Women's Equality Day, at Fabulous Fern's in Saint Paul, with Senator Mark Dayton as the honored guest to speak to it's importance and continued need.
In 2010, a small group of CAFE members including Amy Kenzie, Beth Johnson, Kriss Hakala, Gordy Gustafson, Barbara Peterson, and Murphy led a 10 city tour through northern and southern Minnesota to get the word out about the need for the constitutional amendment to protect from gender discrimination. Events were held in Bloomington, Duluth, Eveleth, Grand Rapids, Park Rapids, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Winona, Golden Valley, and Rochester, as well as having a strong presence that year at the Minnesota State Fair.
On April 14, 2010, the state ERA bill was heard before the Senate Judiciary committee. (see testimony video clips HERE). However, the House committee, under the chairmanship of Rep. Joe Mullery, would not put it forward in committee, and the response from DFL leadership at the time, was that having an Equal Rights Amendment on the ballot would unknowingly influence who came out to vote.
The 2010 election changed the make up of the legislature and the chance to get an ERA onto the ballot was severely diminished. By 2011, the GOP leadership pushed through two constitutional amendments to bar same-sex marriage, and to require photo ID to vote. The MN CAFE shifted its focus and effort to help defeat the anti-marriage amendment in 2012, and entered the 2013 legislative session with a proposal to all progressive legislators to use the ERA to help secure gender equality and push for legalization of same-sex marriage. Despite heavy lobbying, the same-sex marriage momentum was huge, and legislation passed into law without needing help from a constitutional effort.
A New Effort
In 2014, Former State Representative Betty Folliard picked up the torch on the issue and encouraged the MN CAFE members along with a whole new delegation of supporters to take a bus trip to Washington DC to be part of the annual Women's Equality Day activities on the Hill. The drive to get the deadline lifted to ratify the Federal ERA was added to the group's effort. MN CAFE shared it's research and materials, it's slide presentation, it's member list and it's website with the reinvigorated new supporters and ERA Minnesota was officially declared.