DOUG ROSS: Going to bat for gay rights evokes ERA memories

2013-07-25T16:07:00Z 2013-07-25T21:17:12Z DOUG ROSS: Going to bat for gay rights evokes ERA memoriesBy Doug Ross, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357

Hammond Councilman Bill Emerson persuaded his colleagues to pass a resolution that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity. If you think that sounds like a no-brainer, think again.

There was a time when discrimination based on gender could have been outlawed — something almost all Americans now would agree with — but it didn't happen.

In 1972, Congress passed what would have become the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The key sentence in the Equal Rights Amendment, as it was known, said, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

After Congress passed the law, it became like a decadelong election night as women's rights activists, political science junkies and others watched and waited to see how the states would vote on ratification.

You might be pleased to know the Indiana General Assembly voted to ratify it. Conservative columnist Phyllis Schlafly was instrumental in preventing its ratification in Illinois.

To be added to the U.S. Constitution, 38 states would have had to ratify it, but only 35 states did before the deadline imposed by Congress.

An opportunity to secure equal rights for American women, spelled out in the Constitution, was lost.

You would be hard-pressed to find someone speaking in support of prejudice and discrimination, using those words, but people can find other reasons to fight equality of the sexes and, especially, equality based on sexual orientation.

Yet the Hammond ordinance proposed by Councilman Bill Emerson, D-4th, passed 9-0 on Monday.

The resolution was in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's June 26 rulings on same-sex marriage.

While the resolution acknowledges state and federal laws supersede city laws, "Hammond wishes by this resolution to express its opposition to discrimination against all citizens in the city of Hammond including those discriminated against in housing, employment and public accommodations based upon sexual orientation or sexual identity," the resolution reads in part.

With the council's action, the city has been directed to amend the employee handbook to address sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Despite the Hammond council's action, the issue of same-sex marriage is controversial, although the pendulum of public opinion has been picking up speed toward acceptance.

Same-sex marriages are forbidden by Indiana law, and the General Assembly is expected to vote next year on proposing an amendment to the Indiana Constitution that forbids same-sex marriage.

That would put the onus on the voters to decide whether to ratify the amendment, just as the state legislatures had to decide in the 1970s whether to support equal rights for women.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Follow him at and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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