NOW wants sexual equality in seminaries, and wants churches to ordain women, or lose tax exemptions.

If three more states had ratified the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982, it would now be part of the U.S. Constitution. Instead, it is back at the starting gate, having been introduced anew in both houses of Congress. Passage in the House of Representatives is expected soon, but in the Senate it is up against some well-informed and creative resistance from conservatives.

At Senate hearings, ERA opponents are focusing on the unintended effects ERA may have on society if sex discrimination is prosecuted as vigorously as racial bias, which ERA proponents demand. In addition, a conservative alternative to the amendment may take shape if a broad consensus develops in favor of it. This idea first appeared publicly in a National Review article by Lincoln C. Oliphant, a staff lawyer with the Senate’s Republican Policy Committee.

Oliphant criticizes the current amendment for leaving “gaping holes to be filled by the federal judiciary.” Opponents fear that across the board, mandated equality of the sexes could have far-reaching consequences, ranging from the constitutionality of the Boy Scouts to government funding of abortions. There is no way to predict how courts will interpret the amendment, since it provides no constraints whatsoever on the concept of equality. In his article, Oliphant writes “the idea that men and women can be importantly different without being fundamentally unequal is the necessary starting point for all serious analysis of how to achieve equal rights.”

Oliphant argues that the best solution is a more detailed amendment, because already the courts “make up sex-discrimination rules out of whole cloth.” His version ...

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