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State Senate debates ERA for first time in 20 years

Supporters want Florida to be the one of the three states needed to ratify the amendment.

Published April 2, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - For the first time in more than 20 years, the proposed national Equal Rights Amendment was debated in a Senate hearing Tuesday, with opponents calling supporters "frustrated feminists" and "leeches."

Sen. Gwen Margolis, a Miami Democrat and the first woman Senate president, sponsored the resolution (SB 1166) needed for Florida to ratify the amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

"Women have not given up hope to secure equality in the Constitution of the United States," Margolis told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Committee Chairman Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, limited debate to 10 minutes for each side to keep the fireworks at a minimum. Committee members voted 6-3 with Sens. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, and Charlie Clary, R-Destin, dissenting. The bill goes next to the Ethics and Elections Committee.

The resolution's goal is to add these words to the U.S. Constitution: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

Congress approved that wording in 1972. But, to add it to the Constitution, 38 states must ratify it. Only 35 states ratified it by the 1982 deadline.

Now, supporters say the 35 ratifications are still valid, though that question will probably end up in court. Organizers hope to get three more states to ratify the ERA. They want Florida to be one of them.

But opponents say the ERA is a thinly veiled attempt by special interests to legalize gay marriage and gay adoption.

"In a court of law, sex can be the sex you are, the sex you do and your sexual orientation," said Ocala resident Sandi Trusso.

Rep. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, is sponsoring the House measure (HB 615). But House Speaker Johnnie Byrd said Tuesday the bill is not a priority this year.

[Last modified April 2, 2003, 02:03:29]

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