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SC lawmaker will push for Equal Rights Amendment passage knowing it's an uphill battle

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Equal Rights Amendment

Equal Rights Amendment advocate state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (center) during a past Statehouse discussion addressing South Carolina's union-unfriendly right-to-work status. File/Grace Beahm/Staff

When state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter pre-files a bill in December urging the South Carolina Legislature to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, she said she will repeat the three words that govern her life: "In spite of."

It's a fitting mantra given that the longtime Democratic state lawmaker knows the odds are stacked against her in getting the measure passed in the session that begins in January.

She's filing it in spite of not having any co-sponsors.

She's filing it in spite of her status as a member of the minority party in a Republican-dominated Statehouse.

And she's filing it in spite of a popular perception that efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, have been considered dead since 1982.

"It has to be done," Cobb-Hunter said. "Why not by me?"

The 1972 proposed amendment she's trying to resuscitate technically died in 1982. The amendment forbids denying equal rights on the basis of sex.

When it was first introduced, the idea was to address discrimination against women in several legal arenas, including employment, pregnancy, compensation and property.

But in the past few years, there have been signs that it could flicker back to life.

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On March 22, 2017 — exactly 45 years to the day after Congress passed the ERA —  Nevada became the 36th state to ratify it.

When Illinois followed suit in 2018 and became the 37th state, it put the amendment one state shy of the number of state legislatures needed (three-fourths, or 38 of the 50) to add it to the Constitution.

"Wouldn't it be great if we had a western state, a Midwestern state and a Southern state to put this over the top?" Cobb-Hunter told a group of about 20 women and three men during a presentation about the ERA this month in Mount Pleasant.

The nonpartisan League of Women Voters is joining Cobb-Hunter in the push, along with the South Carolina Progressive Network. 

Melinda Hamilton, president of the Charleston area league, said the group's involvement is less about passage and more about increasing awareness surrounding the amendment.

"You can't just blow this off and say, 'It's a woman's issue because women have power,'" Hamilton said. "It's important for people to know the world has changed. Women marched. They ran. They voted. And look where we are today. I think that gives this whole effort more traction."

She pointed to the record-breaking number of women heading to Congress as a result of the 2018 midterms.

Cobb-Hunter reiterated her ultimate goal is to start a discussion on the state-level about why the ERA is needed.

"It's probably like a snowball's chance," she said. "But then again, I've seen some things that were said to be snowball's chance (get passed). So maybe there is a hell that has a cooling compartment."

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

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