SPRINGFIELD—The Senate moved to ratify the long-dormant Equal Rights Amendment Thursday despite Republican accusations that Democrats were using women “as pawns” to distract attention from the failures of one-party rule at the Capitol for more than a decade.
The measure sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, allows for equal rights based on gender. It passed 39-11 in the Senate and goes to the House.
Though Congress passed the amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the mid-1970s, it wasn’t ratified by the required 38 states — including Illinois.
“There’s just no excuse not to vote for this,” Steans told her Senate colleagues.
But some Republican women disagreed.
Sen. Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry, pointed out that the rights are already embedded in the Illinois Constitution, which she said made the timing of this move suspicious.
“The resolution is an absolute red herring, a distraction,” Althoff said. “This is a 40-year-old issue. It’s older than my children. Why are we, a serious people, not directing our attention to addressing serious issues that will actually benefit Illinois women today?”
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said it’s 10 days before adjournment with “another governor under federal investigation,” a messy budget and high unemployment rates.
“I’m for the amendment, but frankly I resent the fact that women are being used in this debate—are being used as pawns—to divert tension from a pretty abysmal record going in to an election year,” Radogno said.
Radogno and state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, were the only two Republicans to join Democrats voting in favor of the resolution. The three remaining Republican women senators voted “present,” while all 11 female Democrats voted “yes.”
While Republicans criticized the measure for being a purely “symbolic” coverup for the budget fiasco, Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, said it did stand for something.
“This is important for us to make sure it stays in the forefront until we as women really achieve what we need to achieve—which is equality,” Holmes said. “We’re not standing up here judging every single bill that’s brought up here saying: ‘It’s not the budget; this not important.’ If that was the case well, damn it, throw out the calendar because nothing else is important.”
Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, said the measure was necessary because inequality still exists.
“In short, we need this because we don’t have it yet,” said Hutchinson. “People assume that this is something we all believe, that men and women are created equally, then why is it we make less than a man for comparable work?”
After the bill passed, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, released a statement commending the effort.
“We have the opportunity to correct our historic record on the equality,” he said. “While some would question the validity or timeliness of this vote, I contend that our actions will send the right message to future generations of women in Illinois forever. Their rights should not be denied based on their sex. That single acknowledgement makes this vote significant.”