Jane Fonda: My question for the candidates

Story highlights

  • Jane Fonda wants to ask candidates in CNN debate: Do they support the Equal Rights Amendment?
  • Many Americans unaware that women don't have constitutional right to equality, she says
  • Fonda: The ERA is a nonpartisan issue, and all candidates should get behind it

Jane Fonda is an actor, co-founder of the Women's Media Center and a member of the Advisory Council of the ERA Coalition. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Over the past year, the ERA Coalition has launched a renewed campaign to put women into the Constitution. Thursday is Constitution Day, marking the day our Constitution was signed in 1787. Our founders wrongly denied women full citizen status despite the plea some years earlier from Abigail Adams to "remember the ladies."

Jane Fonda
It took more than 100 years for women to get the right to vote in 1920 through the 19th Amendment, and nearly a century later women still do not have equal rights under the Constitution. I would like to put a simple yet fundamental question to candidates in the upcoming CNN debate: Do they support the Equal Rights Amendment?
    Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has said, "Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only question is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't." Well, like the overwhelming majority of American men and women, I think it should.
    This has been and should be a nonpartisan issue. Who can take issue with the words of the Equal Rights Amendment: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex?"
    Most countries in the world already have a provision such as this in their constitutions. And we need the ERA to help end discrimination against women in everything from the wage gap to gender-based violence.
    The Equal Rights Amendment is co-sponsored by progressive Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney and conservative Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis. They both believe, as more than 90% of all Americans do, according to one poll, that women should have a constitutional right to equality.
    Most Americans mistakenly believe we already have it.
    The ERA was originally drafted by a Republican woman, Alice Paul. In the campaign for its ratification, the ERA was supported by Republican and Democratic presidents alike: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. I remember Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter all in Houston in 1977 joining together for women across the country at the National Women's Conference.
    We came so very close to success, with ratification by 35 of the 38 states needed, when the deadline expired in 1982.
    Today, both parties are courting the women's vote. We have shown that women can make a difference at the polls, and as voters I think we should know where all the candidates stand on constitutional equality for women. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said it is one of her greatest wishes to see the ERA in the Constitution in her lifetime, for the sake of her granddaughters.
    For all of our daughters and sons, and granddaughters and grandsons, we should make this happen.
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    This is no longer a struggle between women and men. Men have changed, and more and more men, especially young men, fully support women's equality and see the benefits of it for themselves as well as their families and the country as a whole. Corporations are increasingly aware of the benefits of equality in the workplace and attracting and retaining women. It's not only the right thing to do. It's the smart thing to do.
    It's time to take a stand and establish the fundamental principle of sex equality in the Constitution. What I want to know from the candidates running for president is whether they stand with us.