The Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations merited certain rights of personhood. The decision in this case became crystallized in the notorious phrase, “Corporations are people.”
This year’s events insistently raise the question of which Americans enjoy the basic rights of personhood in America.
How are we doing when it comes to achieving our nation’s putative hallmark ideal of equality?
A reading of U.S. history we often hear tells the story of a nation that has thus far imperfectly realized its founding premise that “all men are created equal” but that has nonetheless been on an ongoing quest to achieve a fully egalitarian culture for all people, even and perhaps especially those that the initial formulation did not include in its reference to “all men.”
The cherished founding principle that “all men are created equal” animating the American experiment has obviously been vexed by realities of our national life and history, which stand undeniably in stark contradiction to that principle. The racism informing the practices of slavery and genocide present in U.S. history since the nation’s inception highlight the unrealized status of this value of equality.
But “we” the people still believe in it, right? We’re still just trying to figure it out, right?
It’s just that it is so hard to figure out, right?
While we could ask many constituencies, particularly people of color, how they are faring when it comes to equal rights, let’s take a quick look at women and transgender people might assess the national terrain in this regard.
In last November’s election, Democrats in Virginia flipped the state Senate and House of Delegates to gain full control of the state government for the first time since 1993. These election results have inspired hope that the state government will now become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which passed the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in 1972 and was quickly ratified by 22 states. Any constitutional amendment requires ratification by 38 states. The crawl toward reaching this number has been a slow one, with Nevada becoming the 36th state to ratify in 2017, followed shortly thereafter by Illinois. Last February, efforts in Virginia fell short by one vote in the House of Delegates. The votes now seem to be there.
But let’s also step back and get a little perspective. Here we are in 2019 still asking whether or not women—some half of our population—should enjoy equal rights or continue to be relegated to the status of second-class citizen.
Isn’t it strange, for a nation pretending to value equality, that we still ask this question, deferring equal rights to women?
Here’s the statement in the ERA this nation trembles to validate:
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”